Ravens in Lincoln Park

There are Ravens in Lincoln Park. Nesting.

raven1raven2My wife and I have noted Ravens in Lincoln Park occasionally over the past five years – but they have been year round residents this past year. Recently, we have seen two, with nesting material. And we hear them nearly every time we go to the park.


Crow (upper R) waits its turn for squirrel feast


Calling to its mate

Ravens are unusual, but not unheard of, in urban parks. The forest in Lincoln Park is finally reaching a mature enough state to support these amazing birds.

If the Parks Department had its way three years ago, this would not be happening. Parks proposed a commercial zipline installation exactly where these Ravens are. Would they be nesting today in an area with people flying through the trees? Not a chance. Thanks to all those who said Nevermore!

The next time you are in the south end of Lincoln Park, keep your ears open for some Raven Talk:

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A Year in the Life of a Horseshoe Pit

A fifteen minute walk from my typical Seattle back yard leads me to a vastly different 5,000 square foot plot – a publicly held wasteland that I visit almost as often as I visit my own yard. It is virtually devoid of life. It is regularly treated, mowed, and graded to keep it sterile.

3-18-14It is the horseshoe pit in Lincoln Park.

For the past year I have visited the pit regularly, and I have taken pictures – 215 of them. I have become attached to that little piece of land. I love it for the life that perseveres there, and I love it for what it can, and should, be.

The horseshoe pit was created by the WPA in the mid 1930’s – pretty cool, back in the day.

8-21-14But times and recreational preferences have changed, and it has been decades since this horseshoe pit has been used. Today it is a muddy, mossy, decayed, and barren wasteland – surrounded by a healthy, maturing forest.  Unfortunately, it is used almost exclusively for beer/wine parties in the summer, at night.

11-30-14A tree falls across it, and I think of the saying, “If a tree falls in the forest…”

Nobody seems to notice or care.

7-15-15This abused and neglected piece of land should be allowed to rejoin the forest. The forest wants it back. Along its chain linked fence edges, you can see the evidence. The seedlings, native plants, and mature trees – are pushing into, under, across, and above the pit, reaching to rejoin each other across its sterile center.

11-17-15I hope and pray that the plants and animals living along its edges get it back.     This horseshoe pit matters to them, and it matters to all of us.

If you have the time, take a look at the 215 pictures of the horseshoe pit at Lincoln Park over the past year. Each picture is a day. Think about it.

Let me know if you’d like to do something about it! Thanks.

For a 215 image slideshow, click on the picture below. It takes about 10 minutes to go through 365 days at the horseshoe pit. Check your time when you start, because you’ll lose track of where you are. Trust me.


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A Tale of Two Cheasties, a year later

On March 13, 2014, I put up a little post here about some folks wanting to put a mountain bike park in a Seattle Parks natural area. Only a handful of people knew about it. That little post has now been read over 1,500 times: A Tale of Two Cheasties.

Time for an update.

A year later, Cheasty has become the unfortunate poster child for both sides in a contentious debate about our Parks. You just say the word Cheasty, and many people know the issues you’re talking about. The Seattle City Council has become involved, it has been written up in the media, Parks organized a very adversarial Project Advisory Team, and people have become more divided than ever. It is a polarizing issue, unfortunately.

There is no bike park. Yet.

Personally, I am more opposed to it than I was a year ago. The actual proposal has constantly morphed over the course of that year – to gain funding, to sway public opinion, and to influence elected officials and private sector donors. The current proposal barely resembles the one I wrote about a year ago. I have been constantly appalled at the misleading information and pandering that has taken place.

Cheasty Greenspace

Cheasty Greenspace

Cheasty Greenspace is still there, but it is being “restored”. Invasive plants are being removed. Hundreds of “volunteers” have tromped through Cheasty with chainsaws, shovels, pick axes, and more. They have changed the landscape. It breaks my heart.

When they are done restoring it as a natural area, it will be destroyed. It will no longer be a natural area. For everyone. It will be a mountain bike recreation area. For a few.

It can’t be both.

A little more from this blog on Cheasty:


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“It was twenty years ago today…”

No, it was not the day “Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play”… but it was still a significant day.

ahlogo1August 14, 1994. I remember shaking with excitement and uncertainty. My principal had come over to my house and was watching a simple graphic appear on my computer. It seemed to take forever to load, watching it fill out from top to bottom, line by line. Eventually, there it was. A school website. OUR school website. The ninth elementary school in the world with such a thing. He happily gave it his blessing – well, what could he say – his name was on the graphic!

The default background color on web browsers back then (if you even had a browser) was grey, so it looked a little different.

But we were there! And we still are. Of the earliest schools on the web, all appearing that summer, ours is the only one that still exists on the same piece of internet real estate: http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/arborhts.html Here’s a listing of school websites from January of 1995. Oh my, it was a time!

ahmapchristmasThe story that followed was flat out amazing. I won’t go through much of it here and now, except to point you to a page that will lead you through the evolution of a pioneering school web site.

As I said earlier, the website still exists. I retired two years ago, but I believe in the importance of hanging onto some things. I am a saver. On the original Arbor Heights site, there are thousands of documents and pictures, telling the story of the school from 1994 to 2012. A few notables that will give you a sense of and feeling for the school, the families, staff, the kids – and that time:


Principal Carl Leatherman rides into an assembly on his motorcycle, 1997

There is plenty more, so please feel free to poke around and explore this little piece of internet history at arborheights.com. I intend to maintain it indefinitely.

arborhtswikiWe continued blazing school website trails with the establishment of a school wiki in 2006. In 2008, the wiki actually became the official home page of the school, recognized as such by the school district. I also maintained the  original website, so there was a period of 6 years where content was added regularly to the wiki and the website, the difference being, there were multiple authors to the wiki – staff and parents. It was a very exciting time. Challenging? Of course, but the end result of having to collaborate on a shared goal was a strong, united vision of how our school would appear on the web. The wiki still exists, and it has a fair amount of material archived on it as well.

Behind the scenes, from 2005 on, there was a constant pressure from the school district to have the Arbor Heights website look the same as all its other school websites, using their template. My sense has always been that schools, like individuals, want to be seen as unique, and NOT just like everybody else. But the big organization wants all its parts and pieces to look the same – it’s so much easier to manage that way…

In the fall of 2012, as soon as I retired, the school set up its website using the district template.

The current school website for Arbor Heights does not link to content on, or acknowledge the existence of, the school’s unique digital history. I hope that will change someday.  There are many inspiring stories and important pieces of that history to be shared, carried forward, and built upon. As a new Arbor Heights is being constructed, I hope people realize this is a time to tighten those connections and strengthen that foundation.

Happy 20th, Arbor Heights on the web!


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An Update – A Tale of Two Cheasties

It’s time for an update, because so many things have happened in the four months since I wrote A Tale of Two Cheasties. That little post has been viewed over 1,400 times, so there was definitely was a lot of interest. Not all of the visitors agreed with my point of view, as you can see in the comments, and so I eventually had to start moderating the comments on this blog, as I was called names and had my intelligence questioned by those who wanted a mountain bike park in Cheasty Greenspace.

14%First off, if you haven’t read A Tale of Two Cheasties, I encourage you to do so before reading on, as I’m not going over the basics of the strange tale here. What I hope to do is bring people up to speed on what’s happened on some fronts in the battle to keep a natural area, well, natural.

Next, note the graphic at the right to see how important this is for Seattle. In spite of how we Seattlites tend to see ourselves a green city, the reality is, we are not, when it comes to our Parks. Out of the 100 most populous cities in the US, Seattle ranks 90th in Parks land that is natural, and undeveloped. A pretty low ranking for a “green city”. See the Trust for Public Land’s City Park Facts for some other eye openers on Seattle Parks

I started and maintain an up to date chronological list of public statements in opposition to a mountain bike park in Cheasty, in a post called Saving Cheasty. However, that list only tells a fraction of the response story, and that’s the reason I am writing today.

Morphing plans
One of the things that keeps changing is the actual proposal, and what proponents of the mountain bike trail say about it. I have heard Parks Department officials in public meetings say in one meeting there would be NO free ride jumps and in another that there would indeed be Free Ride jumps. I have heard Parks officials say in one meeting pedestrian and bike trails would be separate, and in another meeting a few days later say the trails would be dual use – shared by walkers and bikers. These were at public meetings, some in front of City officials. They are part of the public record. So you have to wonder just exactly what do people have in mind, after all?

The non-nimby response
wilsieThe rapidly increasing number of signatures on the petition, Maintain foot traffic only policy within Cheasty Greenspace, is striking. When I first happened upon the petition in February, and started getting it out in social media, it had 94 signatures. It was put up in early 2013, because people living around Cheasty had heard about a mountain bike park proposal, were worried about it, were reassured by Parks that it would never happen – and for some reason, did not believe that. Right now it has 362 signatures. While many of those who signed are neighbors, many more are certainly not all living next door to Cheasty, and several make that clear in their comments. I find it interesting that several signers are from outside Seattle as well. As the word spreads about a plan to put a mountain bike park in a designated natural area in the middle of Seattle, people are spreading the word, because preserving dwindling natural areas in urban areas is a hot topic right now, globally. The voices at Save Cheasty Greenspace are a part of that chorus, hoping to give Seattle a wake-up call.

Every time someone signs that petition, the Parks Department advocate for the mountain bike project is notified. I have never heard a single word of acknowledgement anywhere from Parks that there is even a petition out there…

Meetings and positions
In spite of there being only one public meeting so far hosted by the Parks Department to discuss the proposal, there have been several community group discussions of the proposal. The most recent was a panel discussion with Q&A, hosted by the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition. I had earlier noted a draft position statement by the Urban Forestry Commission, and they indeed came out with a strongly worded final position statement (pdf), sent to the City Council, the Mayor, and Parks Department officials, raising serious questions about the proposal, and asking for, among other things, a five year pilot and a fenced area to protect the interior habitat. They also questioned the public engagement process.

lcna letterYesterday the Lake City Neighborhood Alliance sent a letter to the Mayor, City Council, Urban Forestry Commissioners, the Parks Advisory Board, Parks Department officials, and Neighborhood Community group leaders, citing concerns over process and policy changes, noting, “Once those revised policies are implemented—even as a pilot project—changes in our natural areas/greenbelts are irrevocable. We will never get them back.” Their letter at the right (used with permission, click to read the pdf), is another indicator that people in communities far away from Cheasty are watching and are worried about what they see happening there.

Almost done
There is so much more to add, and there are many more people and organizations working hard to keep Cheasty a natural area, but this is enough – for now. I hope somebody in the media will do an in depth piece on this mess. It’s complex, and it can’t be covered in a couple of paragraphs with a few bullet points. I will close by adding something that has been bothering me the more I think about it…

Volunteering is a wonderful way to help out a community or a cause. Volunteers get no compensation – they get a nice warm feeling, though, helping to make a difference for countless causes everywhere. The bike park proponents have touted how many volunteers they have working to clear invasive species right now in Cheasty, and how many millions of dollars their hours there are worth. I say they are not volunteers. They are working very hard, but only because they expect something in return. So what do they expect?

They expect to be given exclusive use of a natural area, to be able to turn it into a mountain bike park for them to ride around in. That’s not volunteering, that’s quid pro quo, as in, if you do this, you get that. They have written this up in some of their proposals to Parks: in exchange for their doing work clearing invasives, they get to put a mountain bike park in a designated natural area. True, and unbelievable.

Friends of Lincoln Park volunteers, http://www.FriendsOfLincolnPark.org

Let’s talk about the totally unselfish work real volunteers do in our parks day after day. Those true volunteers love their cause, but they expect nothing in return personally, except a beautiful and healthy park.

The value of their work is not counted in dollars. It’s what that credit card ad would call priceless. Here’s to the countless “Friends of” groups made up of true volunteers.

If you haven’t signed the petition yet, please consider doing so. Thanks – Mark

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Heartbreak in my city

My wife and I recently spent an hour exploring natural areas not far from our home. We were amazed and appalled.

ospreyThis is a juvenile osprey, waiting for food, in its nest on a big ball and tackle joint of an enormous crane on the Duwamish River in Seattle. The river is incredibly polluted, and it will take decades, at best, to clean up a few years’ worth of irresponsible toxic industrial dumps in the middle of the 20th century. But despite existing on fish caught in a polluted river, the amazing osprey continue to thrive on the Duwamish. They are incredibly resilient and adaptive.

camplong1A few minutes drive away from the Duwamish there is Camp Long, a beautiful  rustic park in the middle of a city. Elementary school classrooms vie for a limited number of coveted field trip spots there every year. The peace is stunning. The cabins available to the public for once in a lifetime family camping experiences are absolutely enchanting. The surrounding woods and well cared for trails invite exploration and discovery.

camplong2A few steps away from that scene is another vision of how we should use our city parks. This is the “ropes course” at Camp Long. In the middle of this pristine jewel in Seattle, is this testament to what can be fabricated in the name of a “natural experience”. All the supports are on poles, not trees. There are no trees where the poles are – they have obviously been removed. Reminded me of a scene from Bridge on the River Kwai.

There were poles where there should have been trees and undergrowth. There were no birds. It looked clean, spiffy, and it was devoid of life. If there had been humans there, flying this way and that, one could say it hosted life. You’d have to read the sign on availability, fill out the forms, and pay the fees, to be a part of that, though…

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Uncle Xerxes

ux4When I was finally confident, through a zoomed in scope, that we were looking at UX on the band, I let my wife know – “UX, definitely, green band on left leg, white band on lower right”. Almost immediately she responded, “Uncle Xerxes!”

Bottle Beach is a mecca for birdwatchers on the Washington coast. Get there 2 hours before high tide, in the right season, and you will be amazed at the volume and variety of shorebirds, especially in spring and fall migrations.

b95We had missed the spring migration, because it was June 3, and supposedly all the birds inclined to head north to breed had already passed through. But I had just read the amazing report of a 21 year old Red Knot, sighted on the east coast. He’s known as B95, and there’s a fabulous book about him, Moonbird. And we really, really wanted to see a Red Knot. However, they are never a gimme in the west coast….

So when we headed to Bottle Beach this time, it was with long shots in mind. Our chances were slim, because it was so late in the spring, and we were not encouraged when we arrived at the parking lot, and there was nobody else there. If the birding is hot, you’re lucky to get a parking spot at Bottle Beach.

ux5But we pushed on , and good grief, there he was, Uncle X,  with two others – Red Knots in breeding plumage, heading north to breed near the Arctic Circle. There were no other people there.

We stayed for a long time, watching. It took a while to confirm that there were indeed three Red Knots. There were many Black-bellied Plovers, Dowitchers, and a few Dunlin, all hanging out, feeding.


Exhilarated beyond belief by what we had just witnessed, we returned to our hideaway on the coast and let a well known coastal birdwatcher know about our sighting. She forwarded our pictures to Washington Fish and Wildlife, and we got this email  response from them  the next day:

Mark, thanks for taking and sharing the photo! UX was banded at Grays Harbor on 14 May 2014. The band on the lower leg is the metal one issued by the banding lab. The green flag is used to identify individuals without needing to recapture them; green is the color code for the USA. It was one of about 180 Red Knots we captured and processed that day as part of a disease monitoring project. I see that this bird was observed at Bottle Beach on 3 June; that means it has been in Washington for at least 21 days.

When we forwarded that report to a very good friend and excellent birder, he responded, “Have you ever spent 21 days at a McDonald’s?” Love it!

Uncle Xerxes, you go, guy! And get a move on, time’s a wastin’.

What a fabulous opportunity to witness, and share with others, this amazing natural cycle.ux7

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