Will Seattle Keep its Urban Wild?

Whether by plan, policy, or ordinance, we should preserve Seattle’s Urban Wild.

We are lucky to have wild nature in our city parks: mature forests, grasslands, and beaches. This is Seattle’s amazing “Urban Wild.”

But will future generations have the Urban Wild, too? Or will these places be transformed by human activities, amenities, or even asphalt until they are no longer wild at all?

Seattle’s growth is putting pressure on parks, and this will surely increase. Our rapidly-growing city will need space for new recreational uses, and the easiest, cheapest solution will be to use natural areas. It’s a recipe for losing the Urban Wild.

Currently, park natural areas are NOT protected from being subjected to new uses, including uses that are unsustainable or incompatible with wildness.

The list below illustrates the problem. None of these are bad in and of themselves—but it’s a problem of scale. How many more will there be, and where will they be allowed? More importantly, where won’t they be allowed? Without having any place in the Urban Wild specifically designated as off-limits to new uses, anything could happen.

Examples of new uses that threaten to encroach on natural areas:

  • Off-leash dogs allowed on nature trails and beaches.
    A well-organized and well-funded group is vigorously lobbying for this privilege. It was considered and rejected by the Parks Department last year, but this group is very persistent and eventually could gain approval. Read more…
  • Commercial, fee-for-entry recreation in natural areas.
    A proposal for a privately-owned canopy zip line installation would have  fenced-off a significant section of Lincoln Park’s forest, seriously degrading the forest for wildlife and people. The project was stopped in the nick of time by an organized opposition. But what about the next time? Read more…
  • Outdoor pre-schools in natural areas.
    This pilot project allows private organizations to use public park land. They have been granted exclusive access to designated forested areas in parks and are expanding city-wide. They operate full-time during the school year. Full-time human presence in natural areas impacts wildlife habitat. Read more…
  • Mountain Bike Skills Courses in natural areas.
    The pilot project at Cheasty Greenbelt was challenged (at great expense) by a citizen group for lacking an Environmental Impact Study. The Hearing Examiner ruled in the citizens’ favor. Despite this, Parks Department is proceeding with the project. Read more…
  • Music Campus in Discovery Park.
    Discovery Park is the only Seattle park with a Master Plan that specifies it remain a Natural Area Park—yet a large project with significant support is being promoted to transform part of the park into a campus. This would be incompatible with the natural character of the park. Read more…
  • Homeless Encampments in Parks.
    In 2016, the City Council voted 8 to 1 in favor of an ordinance that would have effectively allowed camping in natural area parks. This would have had severe environmental impacts, and it was stopped only when the Mayor vetoed it. Read more…

Let’s STOP chipping away at natural areas.

Let’s COMMIT to preserving the Urban Wild.

Let’s PRESERVE it for passive recreation and wildlife habitat.


Douglas Squirrel in Seward Park, 2013.

(photos Denise Dahn)


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