By UW Sustainability | Nov 30, 2015

UW's ENVIR 480: Sustainability Studio class in the Program on the Environment presents students with a sustainability topic which they engage in as part of an experiential learning course. The topics change each quarter - this spring, the students researched the UW's environmental history. This is part of a series of posts by the students on some of the information they uncovered.

Ravenna Park was once filled with fir and cedar giants, serving as a prime example of what Northwest forests looked like in the early 1900s.  

From 1887 to 1911, William Beck and his wife Louise maintained private ownership of the park, vowing to protect its natural landscape. Despite their efforts, when the park became public property in 1911, many of its natural features were lost.

When the City of Seattle decided to lower Green Lake, Ravenna Creek, which flowed from Green Lake through Ravenna Park and into Lake Washington, was disrupted. The loss of this interconnected waterway led to the displacement and death of many salmon. This loss in diversity was worsened by the suspicious disappearance of many of the park’s prized old-growth trees, which ranged from Western Red Cedars to Douglas Firs and Red Alders.

Upset by the destruction of the forest, members of the Federation of Women’s Clubs complained to Hugo Winkenwerder, dean of UW’s College of Forestry. Winkenwerder investigated the groups’ claims and complained to Seattle’s Parks Department.

The Parks Department vowed to cease all logging operations in the park – their promise was short lived. By 1948, nearly all of the large old-growth trees were removed and the creek had been diverted to a storm gate, emptying into the West Point Sewer Treatment plant.

In 1990, some relief finally came when Metro, having been tasked with the reduction of sewage overflow, turned to the Ravenna Creek Alliance to help meet the goal. Metro’s initial proposal was to redirect the creek to Union Bay through an underground pipe. However, the plan was met with resistance from the public. To meet public demands, the Alliance came up with an alternative plan: bring most of the current underground creek to the surface.

Affiliated members of the UW community, ranging from landscape architects, fishery biologists, and stream specialists to civil engineers and artists, were recruited by the Alliance to help restore the creek. The plan was to have the creek run through present-day University Village and into Union Bay.

However, due to University Village’s and UW’s concern over the safety of the creek and its potential hindrance on future building construction, the Alliance could not implement the full-scale project. Instead, the City of Seattle pursued Metro’s original pipe design in 1998.

Despite the defeat, the Alliance did not give up. Within the Park, it expanded the creek channel by 850 feet. New railings, vegetation, and other decorative features were added to enhance the beauty and safety of the park.

Even to this day, the Ravenna Creek and the park at large play a significant role in the Seattle community. On any given day, joggers can be seen running through the ravine, children exploring the landscape, or UW students studying the park’s natural history and native plant life. 

By Natalie White and Allie DeLarge
Photo courtesy of UW Libraries, Special Collections, UW26468

For more information on the environmental history of UW, see our interactive timeline "A Century of Sustainability" at green.uw.edu/timeline.

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