TUCKED BETWEEN A boat launch, an adjacent parking lot and a beige restroom with all the charm of a quartered Quonset hut, the scruffy Lake Washington shoreline of Be’er Sheva Park might seem an unlikely place to find magic. Neither woo-woo nor hocus pocus, it offers an unexpected alchemy of earth, water and sky, arranged like lips pursed for a kiss.
On a recent visit, I happened upon what looked like an impromptu block party. In this cherished gathering spot, Rainier Beach neighbors were listening to music, picnicking and admiring the returning geese and waterfowl.
This story, however, begins much earlier, with melting ice. More than 16,000 years ago, receding glaciers shaped the Pacific Northwest — and Rainier Beach — into its current greenscape.
The first humans to settle the area were Duwamish. Members of one tribal branch calling themselves the Lake People had wintered along the lake’s shores for millennia. European settlers arrived in the 1860s, evicting the Lake People from their ancestral homes while appropriating the land for themselves.
Annexed by Seattle in 1907, Rainier Beach today is among the city’s most racially and culturally diverse neighborhoods. Eighty percent of its residents are people of color, while, in their homes, 57% speak a language other than English. These historically underserved communities reside in one of only two Seattle neighborhoods (the other is the Duwamish River valley) without an extended public shoreline or a signature waterfront park.
“Nevertheless, our neglected little beach has always been a focal point for community-building,” says Shannon Waits, who co-chairs the steering committee of a group called Rainier Beach Link2Lake. The nonprofit’s plans for lakefront improvements are shovel-ready, pending final funding. “The neighborhood,” Waits says, “is determined to make beauty in this place despite systemic oppression.”
Buoyed by the slogan “Where’s the Beach,” Rainier Beach residents have eagerly contributed design ideas, suggesting basic improvements to the parcel’s infrastructure that most other Seattle waterfront parks take for granted.
“The community envisions a green waterfront that celebrates the pedestrian experience,” says project manager George Lee, who enthusiastically tallies the envisioned upgrades. “We’ll add basic amenities like picnic tables, barbecue grills and a covered stage that doubles as a shelter. Add to that a boardwalk and lighted walkways, not to mention a big natural beach for families to play on.”
The abracadabra begins this summer with a mural-painting project, enlisting young community artists to enliven the exterior walls of the plain-Jane restroom. For more information on the capital campaign, visit rainierbeachlinktolake.org.
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