This post comes to us from neighbor Patricia Bannister.
Wallingford has 10 public access points to Lake Union. Yes, 10! And we explored each one on June 28 during a guided neighborhood tour that was organized as part of the Visions of Wallingford community filmmaking project.
Our tour leaders were Lee Raaen and Ted Hunter, who have been diligently studying the complex ownership and management of the 23 numbered waterways. These parcels of shoreline along Lake Union are partially intended to provide public access for the surrounding communities. Currently, they are managed by The Washington State Dept of National Resources, yet due to their odd history in terms of platting, zoning, title transfer, and so on, they can wind up being managed jointly, or encroached upon if no one protests.
How could enjoying the benefits of the lake frontage seem such a low priority? Do we think of Gas Work Park as the only link from Wallingford’s residential streets to Lake Union’s north shore? And then assume it can’t get any better? That was our task for this excursion: to contemplate our own relationship to the waterfront, i.e. what is the most desirable balance of public accommodation and private ownership? How important is it to maintain the principles of a “working lake”; in the face of intense pressure for other land usages?
Once assembled, we departed from our meet-up spot on Stone Way to cross N 34th, then head east via Northlake Way–initially single-file on a bumpy footpath on the south side of the road because there is no sidewalk. Who knows what persons have walked here before?
As to history, the maritime aspects of Wallingford may not be as well-known as other designations, such as bungalow architecture or the plethora of delectable restaurants/pubs. Long before, the area was inhabited by indigenous tribes, either as permanent residents or visitors who might arrive for seasonal activities. The early, industrial growth of the Lake Union, inspired by the white settlers, was dependent on the logging of the old-growth forests which seemed so endless. The lake enabled transport of logs to mills built around the lake.
By 1887, the Seattle, Lakeshore & Eastern Railroad curved along the shore where the Burke/Gilman now passes. Such development in the latter half of the 1800s grew in spurts, depending on economic ups and downs, or unexpected boons such as the Klondike (Yukon) Gold Rush of 1890s, events which began to promote Seattle on the international stage. The idea of Lake Union as a “working lake”, meaning that its value as a maritime job generator rather than as a residential or recreational asset, seemed logical. The mills, and later the gas plant, were loud and dirty enterprises. The business-minded settlers had early perceived the economic and trade opportunities that would happen rapidly if Lake Washington could be connected to Puget Sound via the lake–thus the name “Lake Union”–long before it actually did happen with the opening of the Chittenden (Ballard) Locks in 1917. This brought a new kind of prosperity to Lake Union, with investments in more diverse industries, mostly marine-related businesses like boat building, maintenance and repair, as well as bakeries or small manufacturing enterprises. A “commercial” zoning regulation of 1925, applied to the two-block portion of the shoreline, cemented this usage for future development.
Continuing our walk, we approached Waterway #21 (of the 23 originals), which appears to be a widened spot off Northlake Way, a deck built over a steep section of waterfront with a few planter boxes and simple bench where a visitor can enjoy a narrow slice of view toward Queen Anne. A waterway hiding in plain sight since there is no signage or architectural detail to note its provenance.
Next came Waterway #20, abutting the west side of Gas Works, and this one does have signs, like “No Trespassing”; on the chain-link fence, because this shoreline section is under management of the Harbor Patrol of the SPD. Here is the best example of the confusion regarding the interpretation of how the Waterways are meant to be used. Public access to the Lake? Public safety? Which has priority? Can potentially conflicting interests coexist? How/where to comment? Who decides?
Moving along we paused at Waterway 19, flanking Gas Work’s east side, but it was impassable due to fallen trees blocking the footpath. Next was Waterway #18, jointly managed with the Seattle Outrigger Canoe Club, a partnership in which the landscaping is well-maintained with an open ambience, inviting to the public. This is in contrast to our next stop, where the waterway seems to have been taken over as some kind of adjunct to a construction project.
Our last stop is the waterway next to Ivar’s, quite small, yet so well landscaped that it provides easy access, low maintenance plantings and interesting pathways, a public amenity worthy of frequent visitation. As we complete our walking tour, members express various opinions as to changes and /or improvements which might enhance public enjoyment and usage of these neighborhood places.
Note: If anyone wants to walk this tour on their own, take caution along Northlake Way; it is NOT pedestrian friendly. Especially with children or pets, it might be better to stay on the parallel Burke/Gilman Trail, then cross over to get to a waterway.