Ziplines, Mountain Bikes, and Horseshoes

Two years ago, Seattle Parks and Recreation tried to give over part of Lincoln Park to a commercial zipline company. When the word leaked out to the public, the community became outraged, and responded in an explosive way against the proposal at a meeting. The next day, the Parks Department withdrew its proposal. Outrage was around two points – 1) what a zipline would do to the mature trees, vegetation, and wildlife at the park, and 2) the lack of public involvement in the process of coming up with the proposal.

Today there is no zipline in Lincoln Park, nor in any other Seattle Park. Those who fought the battle against it remember the time well.preservelincolnpark It actually brought together the community and fostered conversations that led to new friendships and new organizations, to make sure something like that never happened again – to ANY Seattle Park.

Two years later, in January of 2014, the Seattle Parks Board of Commissioners gave their advisory vote of approval to the establishment of a mountain bike park in Cheasty Greenspace, a Seattle Parks natural area, as a pilot project – violating the Parks policy  prohibiting bike riding in its parks. To try it out. For three years. At a cost of three quarters of a million dollars. To be built by volunteers and financed by non- and for- profit corporations.

meetingCommunity members, many having just found about this, became outraged. The bike park promoters said there was ample public disclosure. But somehow, there was a large, very upset group of citizens (many from outside the neighborhood) that shook its head saying it did not know – and this is not what Cheasty Greenspace was meant to be used for. The first public meeting was very contentious. Divisions between sides could not be more evident than Congress during a State of the Union speech.

Right now, at the end of March, 2014, Parks and Recreation says it is going ahead with the pilot, and opponents swear it is not a done deal. Opponents have come out with posts, petitions, and an open letter. The Urban Forestry Commission, another city advisory board, has come out with a draft position statement that questions many aspects of the proposal. Both sides are sending emails to the City Council, the Mayor, and Parks and Recreation. It’s a mess.

So maybe it would be useful to take a step back and look at a more peaceful time, when there was not the public process that we take for granted today, on these kinds of decisions. The city built things in its parks because that is what they thought certain groups wanted, or maybe because it was popular at the time. The land was there to be taken, filled up, used for activities.

Enter, horseshoes, the game – or pitching horseshoes. Some of us can even remember pitching the real thing a few times. It was quite the craze, back in the early part of the 20th century. Well, it was for the men, anyway. The guys who had some leisure time on Sunday picnics and at family gatherings. There were horseshoe magazines and national competitions. It was a great part of white, rural and suburban Americana in the middle of the last century.


But most people don’t play horseshoes anymore. So here’s what a horseshoe pit looks like today, in Lincoln Park:


cedar at end is 2+ feet in diameter


moss covers concrete slabs

The cleared, barren area is 50′ by 100′, 5,000 square feet, the size of a typical city lot.  It is surrounded by a high chain link fence, in the middle of a heavily forested area. There were 20 horseshoe pits there at one time, each flanked by two 2′ by 6′ concrete slabs. There are currently six pits that are recognizable, still having some rotted wood around them. All 40 concrete slabs are still there, most now below the surface.

Here’s what the area looks like to the north, and the south – a natural woods. Trees grow and mature, and wildlife thrives. People walk on paths through the woods.

DSC08038 DSC08037




But   that 5,000 square foot horseshoe pit just sits there, unused, as it has for decades. As it will for decades more. Nothing grows there but moss and weeds. It is scar tissue in Lincoln Park. Thank goodness there is no zipline folly in the park, wrapped around, nailed into, and choking its maturing trees.

I wonder what those mountain bike trails at Cheasty Greenspace will look like in 10 or 20 years? The proposed trail system will cover 50,000 square feet, at the very least. That’s ten house lots, or ten of these horseshoe pits – a lot of land upon which no trees or plants will grow, and no animals will live. For decades and decades. Well beyond the popular use of mountain bikes by a small segment of society. Trust me.

DSC08079Will some current specialized use be worth this? Is anything worth the destruction of a natural area in the middle of a city?

If so, what is it?

And who decides?

About Mark Ahlness

I am a retired teacher, with dreams of still making a difference.
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10 Responses to Ziplines, Mountain Bikes, and Horseshoes

  1. Susan says:

    Those opposed to this project have some valid concerns and good arguments, but this certainly isn’t one of them. The walking trails will have a 4 foot wide base of crushed rock, and thus may persist for years after walking wanes in popularity. The bike trails, however, will be only 2-3 feet wide and will be on the native soil. They will be somewhat intensive to put in, as builders will plan for erosion control and other design-features to protect the surrounding environment, but they won’t be that difficult to obliterate if the project fails its pilot goals and needs to be removed. The many thousands of volunteer hours that will have gone into removing invasive plants and restoring the forest, however, will leave a legacy lasting decades at least. And that’s the worst case scenario.

    For those concerned about the real issues, visit to learn more about the questions and concerns raised at the March 25th meeting, or come to one of the work parties to have a conversation in person.

  2. mahlness says:

    Susan, thanks for your feedback. Interesting to look at the trails, I agree. Your reminder about the wider walking paths ups my estimate of 50,000 square feet for the trails. I also wonder if the walking trails were designed first – say, to link the east/west parts of the park, connecting Beacon Hill with the light rail on MLK Way? But that could never happen, as the walking trails would have to then cross the mountain bike trails, which would nix the whole idea.

    I have visited the bike blog and have noted a couple of interesting things recently:

    1) The Free Ride areas are still showing on maps of the proposal – even after Mark Mead assured the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission they would not be a part of the bike park. Commissioners were rightly concerned about the restoration work already done in that area just north of Columbian Way. A Free Ride area would destroy much of that work. That is not mentioned on the bike blog or anywhere in the Parks Department. Actually, many of the bike park Facebook comments talk about wanting to increase the skill levels in this part of the park. I wonder if bike park supporters understand there will be no free ride area.

    2) After the March 25th meeting, there are no corporate sponsors showing on the site. At least one university requested its logo be removed, and now there are no sponsors listed at all. Makes me wonder how solid that impressive looking page of 15-20 sponsorships was. – Mark

  3. Mark Holland says:

    The Beacon Bike Park four foot wide gravel walking path argument is deceptive.

    Seward Park has acres of restored forests with two to three foot wide dirt hiking trails.

    Why should Cheasty get only the four foot wide walking paths, but no narrow hiking trails like Seward?

    Hike into the restored forest in Seward Park and see for yourself. Just don’t ride a mountain bike in there. The Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation does not allow bikes on any trails in Seward Park, unlike Cheasty.

  4. Pingback: Saving Cheasty | Acrovision

  5. Dinty Dan says:

    So we shouldn’t build any park infrastructure because it may not be fashionable in the future? Wow, thank goodness that was not the case, otherwise we may not have any parks! I agree that we need to build with an eye for the future, not just what is trendy. Mountain biking has been super popular for nearly 40 years, and this trail system is relatively small. As Susan says above, it would not be gravel or permanent like a sidewalk, so if it becomes unpopular in 30 years the ivy-free trees, and new natives that are planted will be by themselves, and still happy. I do agree that we need to insist on a walking trail that connects to MLK. The reason why walking trails are built so wide and with crushed rock is because this limits maintenance. The vegetation creeps in over time, and it means more years before you have to come in and rebuild the trail. If this trail is set for getting from point A to point B, as is a request of the “opposition” and one that I agree with, then we will want it to be an official maintained trial, as has been described. Otherwise it will not be useful for this purpose.

  6. mahlness says:

    Dear Dinty,
    This proposed trail system is not relatively small. For the space, it is a huge overload in such a small area. As for the walking trail, that has never been a part of any bike trail plan (that I’ve seen), and I’m assuming that’s because a trail connecting MLK and Beacon Hill would bisect the mountain bike trail at least twice. That would tank the whole proposal, hence no crossing trail. Thanks for agreeing it would be a good idea, though. – Mark

  7. Dinty Dan says:

    Hey Mark, thanks for the response. I remember clearly in the meeting with Mark Mead that what they still needed input on is the walking trails for the park. Also, if I remember on the map there are some proposed walking trails depicted. I am not sure if they go where we are suggesting, though. So walking trails as far as I understand are part of the trail plan. And regardless, let’s make it part of it!

    Regarding whether it is an overload for the space, I am not an expert on this, however, I have been a proponent of scaling back the trail system to better fit with the space.

    The problem is the NIMBYism (I don’t mean that offensively as it probably sounds) has been turning this into more of a neighborhood battle than is good for Cheasty or the neighborhood. I think we all mostly agree on the following:
    1. Cheasty is an incredible green space that needs some love – habitat restoration, slope stabilization, etc.
    2. Some form of recreation actually in the green space would be appreciated by the neighborhood – especially for kids.
    3. Getting the community more involved in the restoration is a good thing.
    If we can stop arguing about items that there truly aren’t facts about yet – whether the bike park will increase or decrease the potential for landslides, stop bringing up examples that you have to be honest are not the biggest issue – the potential noise that a mountain biker makes – then maybe we can have a discussion and create some compromise to accomplish the three items we agree on. I feel like so many people are going all out to oppose this simply because the Parks and Recreation Department did such a horrible job communicating this to the neighborhood. And now it will cost us this great opportunity to accomplish what we all agree on. This is so sad! Let’s focus this energy on finding common ground that we can all get behind and make sure the bike AND walking park is sustainable and meets the needs of this community. Whose in?


  8. mahlness says:

    Thanks for your upbeat response, I appreciate it. I totally agree on your point about the Parks Department botching the community involvement piece.And if they’d done it right, they would not have brought the proposal forward at all – because they would have heard all the reasons not to.

    I will heartily disagree with you on another point, though. This is not an issue of community or nimbism. It’s about the whole city of Seattle. Cheasty Greenspace belongs to me, a West Seattle resident, as much as it does to its neighbors, or folks living in Ballard. It is a part of the dwindling 14% of our city park land that is still designated as natural, undeveloped. I will not give up a piece of that 14% quietly.

    It needs to remain a natural area for the 78% of parks users who list walking/hiking as their preferred activity, and not given over to a very small special interest group whose proposal will essentially eliminate that activity from Cheasty. Sure, they’ll put in a one-way waling trail to nowhere for looks, but that’s not what this proposal is about. – Mark

  9. Dinty Dan says:

    Mark, I posted a response on the Beacon list serve, but I think it didn’t make it on, so I will post it again. It lists a statistic that there are 1.5 times as many mountain bikers as there are golfers. Yet, Beacon Hill has a huge golf course. I’m not saying that we should rip up the golf course, but saying that we should not have a mountain bike trail in a park because you call it a small special interest group I think is uninformed. There are many recreation opportunities that the majority of residents may not choose to enjoy – that is part of having a diverse city. Additionally I pointed to a study that dogs, even on leash, have a greater impact on wildlife than just people walking down the same path. The hypothesis is because dogs are carnivores wildlife are more disturbed by their presence (one reason National Parks do not allow dogs). So to assume that a walking trail (which people would likely walk their dogs on) is benign and a mountain bike trail is super damaging is just that, an assumption. I think it is great to have a place to walk your dog (on leash) and I think the benefits of restoring this piece of land balances out this extra impact.

    I think unfortunately you and the other neighbors who are fighting this so vehemently are losing your place to actually have a dialog about the walking and nature aspects. And bringing up non-issues like noise from what is considered a silent sport relegates to the fringe your points that I think are more important to resonate. Honestly, the way this conversation is driving our neighborhood apart is very disturbing. I support you in your concern for having walking access, and I would like to be on your team to encourage the project to scale back the amount of trails, but for you it is all or nothing. No compromise.

    Had Parks had an approach more similar to the Department of Neighborhoods, I think you would have found that the grassroots support for this project would overshadow your opposition. And for those who were willing to actually engage in that process, rather than just stand on a soap box yelling, we would have had a plan that matches more of our visions for the greenbelt. Instead, we have the hard core bikers against the hard core not in my back yard. The project will either go forward as is, or it will be shut down completely, and likely the motivation from the community will extinguish with that death.

    If, as you say, the park belongs to the people of Seattle, and there was a majority of residents that think this plan is worth trying, would you back down? There were a ton of pro-trail supporters at the meeting, and many have even braved the list serve. I don’ t this is as clear as you think. If this restoration / bike plan fails, are you willing to put some action where your mouth is and lead the charge to get funding for restoration and amass volunteers to restore the green space? I’d be willing to meet up with you to really discuss ways we can try and bring folks together if you were willing. Let me know. I’m at



  10. Pingback: A Tale of Two Cheasties, a year later | Acrovision

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