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. 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.
Community 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.
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.
Will 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?