By Sonia Garza, Army Spouse
A Near Century of History
Fort Lewis (now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord [JBLM]) has an almost 100-year history in the Pacific Northwest. What started out to be a small fort, has grown into one of the world’s largest military complexes.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) was established in accordance with congressional legislation implementing the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, ordering the consolidation of Army Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base into Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
JBLM is one of the most sought-after military installations to be stationed at, largely due to the breathtaking, spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains, Olympia Mountains, and Mt. Rainier.
Joint Base Lewis–McChord
Fort Lewis has a Commissary, PX and an expansive park all in the same area. The park comprises a splash pad, padded park, skate park, bowling alley and movie theater. You will find indoor pools and workout facilities, as well as hiking trails. Kayaking, boating, and fishing are just a few of the water sports you can access from the base at Russell Landing Marina at North Fort on American Lake. McChord AFB has its own Commissary and BX with an indoor play place for kids. The bowling alley is also popular as it has an indoor playground, making it a prime activity in the rainy season.
Established base housing offers small duplexes up to four bedroom homes, based on rank and availability. Libraries, parks, schools and proximity to American Lake make living on post a charm.
Off Base Living
The Dupont Community
Dupont, the closest city to the base, is accessible without getting on the highway, and is rich with its own history, city council, and mayor. This quaint, mostly active and retired military, is a neighborhood rich in community. Dupont loves showing off its pride with its tree-lined streets, American flags and alley garages. The “downtown” boasts a locally run general store, pharmacy, library and a small variety of restaurants. Like to golf? Dupont is home to the Home Course Golf Course. This active community is connected by hiking trails, some even leading straight to the Puget Sound. You will see people running, biking, running, and more, rain or shine.
The Surrounding Area
To the south toward Olympia, is Lacey and Hawks Prairie, also a very popular place for many families to live, as it’s easily accessed in about 15-20 minutes from the base . Some families choose to live in Olympia for the city life and proximity to water.
To the north, is Tacoma, but plan on it taking anywhere from 25-30 minutes. Tacoma, “the city of destiny,” has its own slew of restaurants, nightlife and waterfront homes. It also offers the Tacoma Art Museum, History Museum, Museum of Glass and Children’s Museum, all within walking distance to each other.
Puyallup is to the east and also comprises of a lot of military. The commute is around 25 minutes, but you will find a quaint downtown with historic restaurants, parks, quite a few shopping malls and more.
Another popular housing area is Yelm, offering a lot more space and land for what you will get with your money. However, it is a bit of a drive, from 30-45 minutes depending on traffic.
Western Washington is characterized by plenty of rain, pocketed between the mountains and the Puget Sound, but as Washingtonians say, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Seasons are mild, but the green landscape is consistent all year long. Springtime will bring an abundance of blooming flowers. Summer in Washington is the best around with sunshine, blue skies and temperatures rarely exceeding 85 degrees. Snow makes wintertime in Washington a blast. It may not stick around for long, but while it lasts, everyone enjoys snow sledding, building snowmen and skiing in the nearby passes. Colorful maple leaves blanket the trees and ground in the Autumn, making for picture perfect leaf fights.
With the Puget Sound around the base, fresh seafood can be found at most local restaurants around town. Clam chowder is the soup of choice. Asian cuisine is also on every corner from Thai, Vietnamese, and Pho. If you’re feeling adventurous, put on your rain boots and head to the nearest beach to dig for clams.
Interesting Things to Do
- Rent a boat at Northwest Adventure Center and launch into American Lake.
- Stay at a lakeside cabin.
Steilacoom (10 minutes from post)
- Spend the day at the beach.
- Ride the 20-minute ferry to Anderson Island.
- Catch a children’s show at the Pierce County Science Dome.
Tacoma (25 minutes from post)
- Ride the light rail train to the downtown and visit the Museum of Glass, Art Museum, and Museum of History.
- Watch a Rainier Baseball game at Rainier Stadium.
- Take the family to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.
- Take a ferry to Vashon Island from Point Defiance Park.
- Rock on at a concert at the Tacomadome.
Lacey (20 minutes from post)
- Grab your binoculars and walk the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
- Dig for clams at the Tolmie State Park.
Olympia (30 minutes from post)
- Visit the state capitol.
- Take the kids to the Hands On Children’s Museum.
- Go to the downtown Farmer’s Market on the water, open year round, with live music.
Puyallup (25 minutes from post)
- Ride a tram to see local animals at Northwest Trek.
- Attend the Washington State Fair at the fairgrounds, held every April and September.
- Bid on some horses at Emerald Downs horse racing track.
- Spend the day at the famous downtown farmer’s market and splash pad.
Fun Day Trips
Seattle (1 hour from post)
- Visit the famous Pikes Place Market.
- Head to the waterfront to ride the Great Wheel or visit the Seattle Aquarium.
Oregon (2.5 hours from post)
- Walk the food trucks of Portland and grab a donut at Voodoo Donuts.
- Spend a weekend at the popular Seaside or Cannon beach
Mount Rainier (1.5 hours from post)
- Spend the day hiking the mountain, snowshoeing, sledding or more.
- Ride the Mount Rainier Railroad through the mountainside.
- Take an Amtrak train to downtown Vancouver.
- Ride the Clipper ferry from Seattle to Victoria, B.C.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for JBLM! There is an endless amount of fun things to do in the area. So get out and enjoy!
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PCSgrades Author: Sonia Garza is a proud Army wife of 10 years and mother to two wild kids. A journalist by trade with a BA in Communications/Journalism and a Masters in Nonprofit Management, her passion for writing has led her to write for print and online publications spanning from the West Coast to the East Coast, including local and on-post newspapers, lifestyle magazines and military spouse blogs.