Seattle Parks Foundation
105 South Main Street, #235
Seattle, Washington 98104
Connecting Seattle through Public Space
January 14, 2015
Dear Seattle City Council members,
I am writing on behalf of the board of directors and staff of Seattle Parks Foundation in strong support of the Cheasty Greenspace Restoration and Trails Project. We serve as fiscal sponsors for the Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View, one of about 30 community groups devoted to enhancing parklands that we are working with across the city.
As you know, the Friends have been working to reclaim the 43-acre green space on the east side of Beacon Hill from invasive weeds and illicit behavior and give it back to the people who live in surrounding neighborhoods. They have already transformed the southernmost 10 acres of the forest.
The Friends also envision a network of pedestrian and mountain bike trails in Cheasty, providing new recreation opportunities for Seattleites and green connections between now- separated neighborhoods and destinations.
In January of 2013, the Board of Parks Commissioners unanimously recommended moving forward with a pilot project in Cheasty Greenspace that would test how forest restoration can be enhanced by incorporating active recreation uses. Motivated by this opportunity, community members have donated 12,000 volunteer hours to restore the green space, making it is the second most popular Green Seattle Partnership volunteer restoration site in the city.
The Parks Foundation is particularly interested in the Cheasty pilot because it:
- Is a forward-looking, community-led solution that embraces the creation and stewardship of a healthy, sustainable, ecologically diverse urban forest AND provides new opportunities for residents to access the urban forest with a safe, ecologically sensitive, inclusive, health-promoting physical trail system.
- Advances the Parks Legacy Plan’s guiding values of “access, opportunity, and sustainability.” Cheasty Greenspace will provide ongoing stewardship opportunities and safe, natural places to play in a neighborhood that currently has limited access to Rainier Valley’s largest public forest.
- Is a great example of the kind of community partnership highlighted in the Legacy Plan as key to the long-term health and sustainability of Seattle’s park system. The brilliance of the partnership at Cheasty is that the same volunteers who have already demonstrated a deep commitment to forest restoration would also build and steward the trail system. These volunteers would ensure the plants would thrive at the same time that the trail system took root.
Unfortunately, a small but vocal group of project opponents have successfully derailed the proposed pilot project, the trails portion of which is now constrained to a 1.5 perimeter loop. Gone are meaningful recreation opportunities. Gone is a bicycle and pedestrian connection between the top of Beacon Hill and Rainier Vista and the Columbia City neighborhood (including the light rail station) at the bottom of the hill. Gone is any meaningful context to test the core premise of the pilot—that active recreation can enhance community engagement with and support of habitat stewardship.
This is not an untested premise in other cities. Denver Parks and Recreation, for example, promotes parks and trails that “give neighborhood youth and Denver residents a place to mountain bike and connect to nature and… educate the next generation of land stewards about the ethics of shared trail use, mountain biking skills and the conservation of the places we love and play.”
We must not miss the opportunity to make this a meaningful pilot project that offers real learning that will inform city policy moving forward.
To this end, we respectfully request that Council:
- Restore the original scope of the pilot project to include cross bicycle and pedestrian trails through the interior of Cheasty so the project can better meet the needs of the community by providing much improved access to public parklands for users of all ages and abilities, be safer and more inviting, and better test the bike and natural area policies in question. The analysis of the pilot project should include findings related to habitat health, public access, safety, neighborhood connectivity, and improved community cohesion and lead to a well-vetted, data- based, long-term, master plan for Cheasty.
- Ensure access to green space and recreation opportunities for all communities. Public health records show lower public health indicators in the areas surrounding Cheasty than in many other areas of the city. While many Rainier Vista families come from cultural traditions that have viewed forests with skepticism, if not outright fear, a recent focus group held at the Boys and Girls Club revealed a near-unanimous desire to have pedestrian and bicycle connections through the space, particularly to connect to Kimball Elementary School and Asa Mercer Middle School.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Working together we can create great public parklands that effectively meet the needs of a rapidly growing and changing city. I would like to follow up with you on this matter in person, and will work with your staff to schedule a meeting between us later this month.