Travelers passing the Third Avenue lagoon may soon notice a new addition to Rotary Park on the lagoon’s southwest end. Last week, the Seward Rotary Club announced it had fully funded the creation and installation of a new interactive whale sculpture to be operated by visitors to the Rotary pavilion. Designed by Moose Pass artist Ryan Gaule, also responsible for the metal salmon sculpture in the library’s rock garden, the sculpture will depict a whale appearing to swim over lagoon waters, with the whale’s movement controlled by a ship’s wheel affixed to the pavilion. Part of an ongoing effort to attract visitors to Rotary Park, the sculpture is funded by grants from Rotary District 5010, the Seward Community Foundation, and the Rasmuson Foundation, whose grant provided the final push needed to achieve funding goals.
“The whale itself is going to take about a year to create and install,” said Rotary Park Project Manager Mary Ann Benoit. “Ryan came up with the idea of this movable whale. Something like that is big and expensive and intricate, takes a long time.”
The sculpture will be one component of a park improvement initiative intended to attract visitors for the purpose of imparting environmental education. Other new additions include a series of signs showcasing the ecology of the park and offering simple environmental protection tips for implementing in everyday life.
“Those signs are basically done,” Benoit said. “I’m just in the final review process right now, and the signs will be sent for production. I think it’ll take two to three months before the signs arrive.”
Hopefully, she added, the art will attract visitors, who will then take the signs’ messages to heart.
“The whole point of the art is to attract people to come to Rotary Park so that they can see our environmental messages,” she said. “It’s all about the tips of how to protect the environment because Rotary worldwide has a new focus area, which is protecting the environment.”
A former wildlife biologist, Benoit was able to leverage her 33-year career to craft an effective presentation for the project.
“Since my background is being a wildlife biologist and pretty much my whole career was spent working on doing things to protect the environment, I thought, ‘Hey, this is something I know and I can help with,’” she said. “Rotary Park looked like it needed maintenance, and it looked like there was no good reason for people to go there. It just seemed like this was the perfect opportunity to fix the place up.”
To aid in the fixing up, new picnic tables made from recycled plastics were commissioned. Gateway Hotel owner Tom Tougas lent paid time from members of his maintenance staff to the project.
“They power-washed the place,” said Benoit. “They did some sanding to get some of the graffiti off, and it looks so much better.”
To those who claim a whale has no place in an inland wildlife viewing area which is ordinarily home to ducks, geese, and fish, Benoit issued a reminder that the lagoon and everything to the east of it was once part of Resurrection Bay.
“After Seward was founded, that was not a lagoon,” she said. “It was part of Resurrection Bay. So if you were standing out there in the pavilion, you would’ve been on the shores of Resurrection Bay. You would’ve, from there, been able to potentially see whales.”
Beyond park cleanup, the installation of the whale and the addition of the signs, planned future phases of the Rotary Park Project include a walking trail to provide access to the newly-beautified park.
“We can’t do all these things at once, so let’s do a little bit at a time,” Benoit said. “The whale will take a year. Next September is when Ryan says he thinks this will be done, and we’ll be able to install the whale. In the meantime, we’ll start thinking about what’s possible for the future.”