Yesler Swamp has a new boardwalk trail providing access for everyone to its quiet, green groves and views of Lake Washington.
Once so gnarly the mud would suck your boots off, Yesler Swamp has a new boardwalk trail providing access for everyone to its quiet, green groves and views of Lake Washington.
The trail is handicapped-accessible and winds through 6 acres of swamp adjoining the lake.
Leashed dogs are welcome. Bikers and runners are asked to walk the trail because of its fragile footing in the mud.
Learn more about the Yesler Swamp and its history: http://yeslerswamp.org/history/
To volunteer: http://yeslerswamp.org/
Friends of Yesler Swamp
A nature oasis in the heart of the city, the area is frequented by more than 100 species of birds. Tucked below street level, the trail is a hushed redoubt, where quiet and handcrafted cedar benches for contemplation beckon. On a recent morning, turtles basked on sun-warmed rocks on the lake shore, and squirrels squiggled through branches twining over the trail.
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Swamps don’t get the respect they deserve: Relentlessly filled for development throughout Seattle as the city rose from its waterside setting, they today are rare habitats. Neither wetland nor lake, swamps are their own sweet self, a combination of woodlands and wetlands that provide a rich variety of living situations for a wide variety of plants, animals and birds. Some areas are submerged, others not, and a splendor of hidey holes and thickets of vegetation provide cover for nesting, resting and feeding.
The trail was carefully aligned to make the most of native vegetation planted to replace the blackberry, ivy, morning glory and other invasives that had overrun the site.
Today salmonberry and snowberry, cedars, Sitka spruce and red osier dogwood, even skunk cabbage create a densely vegetated red cedar swamp worthy of Sasquatch. There’s a viewing platform to enjoy the swamp lantern, as the Northwest’s native skunk cabbage is known.
Soft swales of sedges and a thickening tangle of twinberry and ninebark thrive under a canopy of willow and poplar. The humped back of a beaver’s lodge hints at the wildlife snugged away here, living busy lives.
That includes students who have year in and year out made the swamp both a subject of study and design practice, notes Kern Ewing, professor of plant ecology at the University of Washington.
He remembers that when work began in 2002, the swamp was inaccessible to the community, overgrown with weeds and blackberry.
Work started, stopped and then surged into gear as volunteers at the Friends of Yesler Swamp, a nonprofit, also rolled up their sleeves. The UW Botanic Gardens, under the leadership of the late director Sarah Reichard, had reached out to the community to forge a public-private partnership to revitalize the swamp.
The UW owns the land, the Botanic Gardens has helped coordinate the work, and the Friends raised more than $400,000 to make the trail a reality. The money came from foundations, the King County Conservation District, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods matching fund, individual donors and other sources.
The 1,500-foot trail uses an innovative design to go easy on the ground, and even gives way from boards to open metal grating in some places to let light shine into the water for fish.
But it’s also an inviting habitat for people. “What is magic about it is here we are right by University Village, but it’s quiet,” said Carol Arnold of the Friends of Yesler Swamp on a recent walk to show off the trail.
The autumn morning shone bright gold and blue through the turning leaves of the trees, and delectable, deep, dark mud gave off the scent of fructifying funk.
“You can worry about global warming but if you can save just one little tiny area, you’ve accomplished something,” Arnold said.
The swamp actually didn’t exist at all — it was underwater — until 1916, when the level of Lake Washington dropped with the creation of the Ballard Locks. The connection of Lake Washington to Lake Union by way of the Montlake Cut allowed passage by water to Puget Sound and beyond.
The UW in 1927 purchased the property that had been Henry Yesler’s sawmill by the lake, hence the Swamp’s name.
“But because it was wet, it got forgotten,” Kathryn Cerny-Chipman, a graduate student working on the restoration, said of the property. “It was regarded as scrubby, undesirable land.”
A good thing, as it turned out. The swamp was preserved by neglect until students, volunteers and Washington Conservation Corps workers could root out the weeds, and reveal the swamp’s quiet beauty with the trail.
Located on the east end of the Center for Urban Horticulture in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, there’s free parking at the center, and the trail is open to all.
There’s plenty of work to do: more weeds to pull, and more to learn about what this place can teach. But now’s the time, too, for savoring the success so far, with a walk where before there was only mud.
“My wife got her boot stuck there,” Ewing said, gesturing toward a dim, muddy glade. The boot is still in there, somewhere.