This isn’t really a secret at all to residents of Gig Harbor. A growing body of research shows that being in or around water — whether it’s the ocean, a lake, a pond or even a fountain — has physical and psychological benefits that enhance our overall well-being.
Urban planners refer to these watery areas as “blue spaces,” similar to calling parks, gardens and other areas with grass, shrubs and trees “green spaces.” Both types of environments have been shown to reduce stress levels, and green spaces that also include water appear to have the greatest calming effect.
That may be why Gig Harbor consistently earns a spot at or near the top of the best places to retire. For example, in 2021, the financial planning website SmartAsset™ ranked our coastal paradise the best place in Washington to retire and fourth in the entire U.S.
An Idyllic — and Ideal — Setting for Senior Living
The Pacific Northwest is known for its lush vegetation, networks of waterways and active outdoor lifestyle. Gig Harbor’s natural beauty, along with its welcoming, hometown charm, draws people of all ages. It’s little wonder that so many who come to visit decide to come back for good.
As one of the newer retirement communities in Washington state, Heron’s Key provides abundant opportunities for older adults to continue their active lifestyle — only with more time to enjoy all of the activities they love.
From hiking a nearby trail to taking a gondola ride, attending an outdoor festival or strolling around the waterfront shops in downtown Gig Harbor, there are dozens of ways to take in the local scenery. And that’s in addition to the variety of cultural, social and educational activities for seniors that residents of Heron’s Key can choose from every day, whether they’re in our independent living, assisted living or memory care residences.
Blue Spaces Brought This Couple to Heron’s Key
Barbara and Harry Lee, who lived in Seattle at the time, took their doctor’s advice and moved onto their boat in March 2020 as a temporary precaution. Little was known about the coronavirus that had begun to circulate, and living on the boat would help to limit their exposure.
As it happens, one of their children lives in Gig Harbor, so they made a point of spending some time in the area while they were traveling from one harbor to the next. They loved what they saw when they first arrived in Gig Harbor and loved it even more after taking several walks around town.
So, when their son brought Heron’s Key to their attention, they decided to have a look. They took a Facetime tour of the community, chose an apartment that “works just perfectly” for them and signed the paperwork right away.
“Heron’s Key has lived up to all of its promises and more for us. We’ve been happy here ever since,” Harry said, noting that Gig Harbor turned out to be “a spectacular place for boat owners.”
Their ‘Living Room on the Water’
That’s how Harry referred to the boat that he and Barbara continue to enjoy after establishing Heron’s Key as their home base. They go on boating excursions of varying lengths, depending on the season.
“This part of the world has unbelievable opportunities for boaters, with many beautiful anchorages, many marinas and green state parks that you can boat to,” Barbara said.
Although they’ve traveled up and down the Pacific coast, visiting Alaska, Mexico and even the Galapagos Islands, these days they’re “cruising locally,” as Barbara put it. They’ve decided to stay closer to home, their children and their health care providers.
Sometimes they take their boat out for the day. Other times, they’ll go for a weeks-long cruise.
“There’s an exhilarating sense of freedom that I think we both get from being out on the water, just being able to go wherever we want,” Harry said. “[Living at] Heron’s Key just suits us so well … [because] it really simplifies our life.”
Barbara drew an apt analogy between their life on the boat and their life at Heron’s Key. Maintaining and repairing the boat has become more challenging as they’ve grown older, but they now have a team of professionals to take care of it and keep it safe, freeing up their time to simply enjoy being there — just like at Heron’s Key.
The Transition: Smooth Sailing All the Way
The Lees had been members of the Seattle Yacht club for about 15 years before they moved to Heron’s Key. That membership gave them access to a lot of wonderful resources and group activities, Harry noted.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to give that up when they moved. With Seattle only about an hour away, they’re close enough that they can still participate in the club activities whenever they want.
They’ve also been able to maintain their relationships with their longtime physicians in the city, though Harry said they are gradually compiling a list of local doctors they feel “are as good as the ones” they have in Seattle.
“We have really excellent medical resources here. Our primary doctor is in Seattle, so we can still get up there and see him when necessary. And there are good emergency resources here in Gig Harbor, should we need them,” he said.
Incidentally, the “excellent” quality of care that’s available at Heron’s Key is one reason Barbara said she and Harry will “absolutely” stay here, even when they no longer have their boat. She has even trained to be a volunteer at Penrose Harbor.
“The bottom line is we’ve found this to be a wonderful transition point from the previous chapter in our lives to a new chapter, and we are very happy here,” Harry said.
Where Might Blue Spaces Take You?
Whether you’d rather meet friends for lunch at the marina or set sail for a harbor up (or down) the coast, simply being near the water can have a positive effect on your physical, emotional and mental health.
Some people, like Harry and Barbara, develop an “addiction” to being on or near the water, to borrow Harry’s word. Quite simply, it makes them feel good.
Earlier Chapters in the Lees’ History
Even though they didn’t know each other as children, both Barbara and Harry developed their love of boating while still in elementary school. In fact, their mutual love of boating is how they ended up meeting in San Diego several decades later.
By that time, Harry had earned multiple degrees from, and had taught at, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before embarking on a long career in the high-tech industry. Barbara had earned her captain’s license through the Coast Guard and was selling yachts. (She also started one of the first sailing schools for women in the U.S.)
Barbara and Harry both were interested in meeting a potential partner who also enjoyed boating. Luckily, a mutual acquaintance introduced them and, as they say, the rest is history.
Your Own Engaging Experience
If you have yet to discover the uplifting benefits of being in, on or around the water, come visit Heron’s Key and spend some time in Gig Harbor. Although we can’t promise that you’ll find true love in the form of a life partner, there’s a good likelihood that you’ll fall in love with your surroundings, just like the Lees did.
By the way, if you don’t live near a large body of water and can’t break away for a visit anytime soon, you can take comfort in knowing that even an aquarium, a fountain, a shower or the simulated “blue noise” of the surf can ease stress. The idea is to immerse yourself in the sight, sound or feel of the water and let go.