Skip to content
The Russell Family Foundation Search

The Foss Waterway Seaport is Strengthening Tacoma’s Relationship with Puget Sound

The Foss Waterway Seaport is Strengthening Tacoma’s Relationship with Puget Sound

In 1889, the same year the State of Washington achieved statehood, an enterprising woman named Thea Foss arrived to Tacoma.  As horse and buggy carts cut muddy tracks through Tacoma’s early thoroughfares, the Norwegian immigrant saw an opportunity to expand the city’s seafaring transportation options.  With the purchase of her first rowboat, the Foss family’s new venture began. Today, the maritime transportation business Foss founded maintains the largest fleet of tugboats on the West Coast.

The Tacoma community has an innate relationship with Puget Sound. The local waterway remains vital for daily commerce and the economic vitality of the region. Thanks to the Foss Waterway Seaport, (the Seaport) local residents can experience this special relationship with Puget Sound firsthand.

The Foss Waterway Seaport celebrates Tacoma’s rich maritime heritage by offering visitors access to fascinating insights and hands-on, scientific and historic experiences. The Seaport’s goal is to strengthen the community’s relationship with Puget Sound – the Pacific Northwest’s most valuable natural resource.

Introducing Ocean Wonders – From the Surface to the Deep

Located on the historic waterfront of the Thea Foss Waterway near downtown Tacoma, the Foss Waterway Seaport’s museum and event center recently completed a fifteen-year redevelopment project featuring a $25 million expansion of its original 120-year-old building.

The Seaport’s modern updates have enhanced the overall experience for visitors, providing additional space for permanent exhibits, new hands-on experiences and an expanded education center focused on fostering the environmental and scientific inquiry of future sea lovers. Perhaps you love the briny, salt-soaked smell of algae off a pier. Or perhaps you’re a staunch landlubber, yet to receive your sea legs. No matter the depth of your curiosity, there is plenty to experience and discover on a daytrip to the Foss Waterway Museum.

Exhibits such as tidal touch tanks and a full-sized humpback whale skeleton inspire patrons to roll up their sleeves and witness the underwater world up close. The operational heritage boat shop restores and preserves the craftsmanship of the Pacific Northwest’s artisanal boatbuilders. Sit in a model of a steam locomotive in the “Where Rails Met Sails” exhibit, then climb aboard a Gillnetter fishing boat to discover the techniques of local salmon fisherman.

The Seaport’s maritime exhibits and historical artifacts are just a few of the ways local Tacoma community can interact with the Puget Sound environment.

The Seaport’s educations programs help Tacoma residents develop a greater appreciation of the Puget Sound’s unique environment. By merging real science with hands-on experiences, the Seaport’s education initiatives inspire a more informed and active community of students.

The Foss Waterway Seaport’s Education Programs Foster Greater Environmental Stewardship

The Seaport continues to expand its education programs to a greater range of students. Over the past seven years, the collective education programs have impacted over 10,000 students, with 3,000 students participating in the educational boat and land programs in 2019. This past year’s participation marks an all-time high.

The Seaport’s education programs are inclusive and scientifically rooted. Each program helps students acquire a more personal connection with the Puget Sound, as well as the ocean environments beyond our local shores. These first-hand experiences help generate a greater sense of responsibility to protect ocean environments.

There are three core programs developed by the Foss Waterway Seaport to help students develop a more personal relationship with the Puget Sound and ocean habitats:

  • The Single Day On-Shore Program: Students interact with Seaport museum exhibits to discover how pollution – especially stormwater runoff – impacts local waterways by changing the chemistry of Puget Sound’s natural environment. Hands-on scientific experiments track run-off from land to sea. Students work in small groups, interacting with tidal species and gaining an in-depth appreciation of Tacoma’s maritime past. 
  • The Single Day On-Water Program: Never been on a boat before? Perfect! Students step aboard the 69-foot charter yacht, My Girl, for a real-life research cruise. Learn to navigate like a modern sailor while scientifically assessing the health of the water. Plankton tow experiments drag nets through various depths to collect diverse lifeforms. Fun fact: Not all plankton are the same. Certain subspecies of plankton eventually transform into larger animals such as sea stars or sea urchins. Students discover the differences between meroplankton vs. holoplankton and identify which animals are destined to turn spiny, or grow future sets of arms. 
  • Summer Science SeaCamp: The five-day intensive STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) camp incorporates both on-water and on-shore scientific field experiments, while merging critical thinking skills with exploratory fun. In partnership with the Pierce County Parks and Recreation, campers (ages 9-12) discover how daily human interactions impact the local waterways. A series of curated daytrips expose campers to diverse natural habitats including local watersheds, intertidal zones and the watery depths of Chambers Bay.

Foss Waterway Seaport is the gateway to the unique maritime heritage of the Pacific Northwest. It’s an event space, education center and museum where families can discover, learn and play. To learn more, or plan a visit to the Seaport, check out the organization’s website.


The Russell Family Foundation is proud to serve as a funding partner to Foss Waterway Seaport. To learn more about organizations we support like this one, check out our Environmental Education page.