In January of this year I began full-time service as the Executive Director at Nature Consortium.  At that same time Seattle Parks and Recreation introduced new Proposed Supplemental Use Guidelines intended to address the needs of our growing city. These new guidelines have created a sense of alarm among park advocates throughout the city. Like you, we share a deep concern about how greenspaces and natural areas might be impacted by the introduction of recreational uses beyond those that are currently demonstrated and proven to be low-impact and low-intensity on the ecological health of vegetation and on wildlife habitat.

Nature Consortium is widely recognized for its longtime work building a community of stewards in the West Duwamish Greenbelt. And like many of you we believe that the conversation about appropriate uses for Seattle’s Greenspaces and Natural Areas is an important one. In April, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Seattle Parks Mini Summit. As a panelist I highlighted the incredible value that community members gain from green and natural spaces that permit only low-impact uses like those we lead in the West Duwamish Greenbelt – forest restoration, guided nature hikes, acoustic music performances, and outdoor arts classes for small groups.

As the conversation has unfolded and our understanding has deepened we felt obligated to engage in this dialogue on behalf of the thousands of volunteers and community members that join our efforts each year to bring health back to Seattle’s largest remaining urban forest, the West Duwamish Greenbelt.

To that end, Nature Consortium drafted a letter to Seattle Parks and Recreation to make a public comment on the Parks Proposed Supplemental Use Guidelines.

As a part of this month’s newsletter, I would like to share that letter with you, our community:

“As the Forest Restoration Program Director for Nature Consortium and someone who leads thousands of volunteers each year in restoration activities in the West Duwamish Greenbelt, I would like to submit the following comments on the proposed changes to the Supplemental Use Guidelines.

Nature Consortium is a grassroots non-profit organization that has been leading volunteer forest restoration efforts in the West Duwamish Greenbelt for over 15 years. Our mission is connecting people, art and nature and we fulfil that mission primarily in the forest and along the trails of the West Duwamish Greenbelt. We are committed to getting people of all ages many of whom are people with low incomes, who live in the neighborhoods adjacent to the greenbelt, out into the forest and connected with the natural world. On a weekly basis we work with volunteers in the forest doing restoration, teaching art lessons, learning about plants and animals, and just being out in nature. Annually, we engage over 3000 people from throughout the city of Seattle in the robust and varied activities we lead in the greenbelt twice weekly.  Our goal as an organization is to continue to increase these numbers.

The programs we lead serve the multifaceted purposes of stewarding and restoring health to Seattle largest remaining urban forest; teaching youth and adults how to continue the care of this valuable natural resource for generations to come; and, providing for the well-being of people in our city by facilitating their connections to themselves, to others, and to nature in relaxing, engaging, and creative ways.  The West Duwamish Greenbelt is a tranquil gathering place for community; a place for urban people to experience tranquility and to reconnect to the land and the place that sustains us.  Parks serve many valuable purposes and this purpose is especially suited to this place, the West Duwamish Greenbelt.  It is an outdoor classroom and the last remaining vast place of natural wonder in this area. 

As a partner organization to Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Green Seattle Partnership we recognize the need for richness and diversity in the purposes that our public parks serve to a growing city.  We respect and appreciate the complexity and challenge the Supplemental Use Guidelines seek to address.  As indicated in the guidelines, we find it as meaningful and important to represent the thousands of volunteers and community members that we regularly engage and support by providing this public comment regarding our insight into how the needs of our community and our city can best be served. 

Although bicycles and motorized dirt bikes are currently not allowed (legally) in the greenbelt, it is not unusual for Nature Consortium volunteers and students, a multi-generational demographic,  to be exposed to the hazards of collision that are created by what is currently unauthorized and unsuccessfully regulated bike and motorcycle use in the greenbelt.  The vastness of the West Duwamish Greenbelt inhibits the effective regulation of bicycles and a decision to explicitly authorize bicycle use in the West Duwamish Greenbelt would pose an increased hazard to pedestrians and the historic and currently consistent uses Nature Consortium, and other area organizations and community members, facilitate for pedestrians young and old.  As you aptly indicate in the guidelines, parks must be assessed for appropriate uses.  We are submitting this statement to express our position that inter-connected walking trails be developed in the West Duwamish Greenbelt to support and promote current uses (education, conservation, artistic, and low-intensity/impact recreation) which are serving a large segment of our community and its needs. 

As the City population grows and more people who don’t own cars move to the City, the need for access to natural areas located on bus lines or within walking distance of neighborhoods will increase. By working in the West Duwamish Greenbelt Nature Consortium has had a big role in making that particular green space more accessible and safer for a broad spectrum of City residents across socio-economic status, age, race, ethnicity, and nationality.  Nature Consortium envisions the West Duwamish Greenbelt as a thriving public space for environmental learning and a laboratory for students that contributes health to our natural and human ecosystems.  We are not “anti-bike” but we do believe that authorizing bicycle use and/or building bicycle trails in the West Duwamish Greenbelt will detract from the substantial value this area represent for other public benefit uses. Thank you.”

Each year over 3000 people like you work side-by-side with our staff to restore the greenbelt. We want to hear from you. What do you value most about the West Duwamish Greenbelt? What personal value do you gain from the time you have spent in the West Duwamish Greenbelt? Why do you volunteer at work parties in the heat of summer and the cold of winter? Why does the work that Nature Consortium does matter to you, to our city and to our environment? Contact us and tell us what you love about the forest we steward together.   Contact us at info@naturec.org and tell us your story.

The period of public comment has been extended to early September and some of you may want to submit your own thoughts and ideas to this public process.  We encourage you to do so.

 

Many thanks,

Merica Whitehall
Executive Director