I live inside Seattle city limits, just five miles – as the eagle flies – to the downtown skyscrapers.
We Seattleites enjoy a privileged lifestyle here at the confluence of nature and civilization. We know it, we thrive in it, but sometimes, I confess, it takes an outside perspective to remind us just how good we have it.
Last month, Seattle was ranked among the 10 best U.S. cities for urban forests in a federally-funded survey conducted by the nonprofit group American Forests. The survey studied the 50 most populous U.S. cities to see which have the most publicly accessible green spaces and parkland per capita.
Rounding out the top-10 in alphabetical order were Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York City, Portland, Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
The benefits of urban parks are many, according to the survey: they clean our air; improve our health; boost our property values; reduce our energy costs; and attract visitors.
I don’t mind sharing our urban-environmental riches with visitors. After all, I’m in the visitor business. Plus, Seattle boasts lots of forest for locals and visitors to share – more than 400 parks with 6,200 combined square acreage (11 percent of Seattle’s total land area) .
Take my “backyard park,” for example. Schmitz Preserve Park in West Seattle’s Admiral-Alki neighborhood was donated to the city and preserved in its natural state in the early 1900s. When I’m there, city sights and sounds disappear and I often switch off my cell phone to pretend I’m in the mountains where there’s no service (don’t tell the people I work with). A loop trail can be accessed from the park’s western entrance near Alki Beach or another off Admiral Way. Park hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
On Seattle’s southeastern flank, Seward Park presides over a 300-acre peninsula on Lake Washington. Remnant old growth forest and trails are surrounded by a 2.4-mile paved shoreline path and easily-accessible beaches.
Seward Park’s stunning location is thanks in part to the inspiration of the renowned Olmstead Brothers who were commissioned by the city to design an “emerald necklace” of parks throughout the city in 1903. The city bought and preserved the peninsula as a park in 1908.
Seward Park is also home to the Seward Park Environmental & Audubon Center, a partnership between National Audubon Society and Seattle Parks & Recreation. Park hours are 6-10 p.m. daily.
Discovery Park, perched above Puget Sound in Magnolia, is Seattle’s largest park at 534 acres. It features a mix of forests, meadows, streams, high sea cliffs and two miles of protected tidal beaches on Puget Sound. The park offers spectacular views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains from many of its trails. Park Hours: daily 6 a.m. – 11 p.m. A park visitor center is open Tuesday-Sunday from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Closed holidays).
You know, a common disadvantage to living in a big city is noise pollution. My noisy neighbors just happen to be howling coyotes. However, I’ve given up complaining about their 3 a.m. parties. Eventually I drift back to sleep with begrudged appreciation for the awesome beauty on the otherside of my fence – that and an old adage: “Nature always wins.”