By Mike Schwindeller, David Graves, and Todd Burley
A look at a satellite view of Seattle will reveal several long strips of forest that to many are unknown and underappreciated. These linear green spaces exist in part due to the hilly geography of Seattle, as most are on steep slopes that were undevelopable and were eventually deeded to the City or purchased to preserve as a park. Most were logged off and left to revegetate on their own, creating an ecosystem heavy with Big Leaf Maples, native shrubs, and increasingly invasive plants like English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry. Yet the potential long-term legacy of these urban forests is great – with effort.
In Southeast Seattle, Cheasty Greenspace is a great example of how a largely unmanaged forest is being restored to create improved habitat and access to the great benefits that nature exposure provides. Starting around 2007, the Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View (FCGMV) was formed by Mary DeJong and Andrea Ostrovsky to begin urban forest restoration efforts at this site through the Green Seattle Partnership. After a decade of monthly work parties, these volunteers and others have enrolled 36.7 acres in restoration and are continuing restoration activities in an additional 95 acres! That’s a lot of ivy removed, thousands of native trees and shrubs planted, and tons of garbage removed.
Providing access to this restored forest grew intentionally over time, like one of the Douglas firs that were planted. Cheasty Greenspace – a natural area accessible by light rail, bus, and bike path between the Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill – is located near communities desiring more park access, but it had no official trails or points of entry. In addition to their goal to restore the forest to a healthy condition, FCGMV wanted to provide more access and opportunities to this underused greenspace and build community at the same time. This effort resulted in new trails developed in Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View, the 10-acre section south of Columbian Way, around 2011-12. The conversations continued, and a new idea stewarded by Joel DeJong of FCGMV gained momentum, resulting in a proposal for a mountain bike and pedestrian trail project.
The Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project includes both bicycle and pedestrian trails that will weave through the forest to connect multiple access points. Pedestrian trails will connect to the existing trails across Columbian Way. FCGMV and SPR are partnering with Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA) to design the bike trails to allow for multiple levels of ability and challenge. Remarkably in a place like Seattle that values outdoor recreation, this will be the first mountain bike trail located in a greenspace in the city. With such great transit and bike access, it is expected that this new trail system will draw local mountain bike enthusiasts (and their kids) who may have otherwise driven to the Cascade foothills. It will also offer a family-friendly nature-based recreational opportunity to folks in the neighborhood by providing a four-foot-wide dirt multi-use connector trail from Columbian Way up to Jefferson Park.
SPR feels this is a win-win situation, creating opportunity and expanding access to trails and nature, while also being mindful of the ecological importance of our greenspaces. Following multiple environmental studies, the final south loop trail design (0.8 miles total) avoids steep slopes and wetlands to protect sensitive habitats, and vegetation and trail monitoring will be conducted during the three-year pilot by EarthCorps. Once funded, a proposed second phase or “north loop” would include additional pedestrian and mountain bike trails and provide an important link for the Rainier Vista community to Beacon Hill, including to Kimball Elementary School. All of the trails will open up access to this natural area so underserved residents will have the opportunity to walk or bike through the woods and receive the benefits of nature exposure.
Construction of the South Loop of the Cheasty Mountain Bike/Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project has just begun and is expected to be ready to explore this fall. So, grab your walking shoes or mountain bike and get ready to meet a new natural area in Seattle. The trails are mellow but challenging, and the experience is free to all. If you’re interested in trying out mountain biking for the first time, BikeWorks (which is just down the street) has a great Earn-a-Bike program for youth, and EMBA can help you learn the basics. See you on the trail!