Hiking the Urban Greenbelts

Try one of the 401 parks you ain’t seen yet.

The city of Seattle has 404 listings in its park directory. Some of these—Green Lake, Ravenna, Gas Works and the like—are a given. Others—the West Duwamish Greenbelt, for example, or Piers 62 and 63, or the Maple School Ravine—are a little less well-known. Still others, like the spot next to the Beacon Hill playground or the west end of Columbian Way, show up as green spots on the Seattle Park Guide, with no other external recognition. Fine for us. We avoid the crowd-pleasers, the general favorites, the passing fads. And while Discovery Park, Magnuson Park, the Arboretum, and Golden Gardens are satisfying, they're filled with weekenders and, well, kind of passé. We prefer Seattle's hidden treasures—nature preserves in the stricter sense. These belts of urban wildness are untouched by city maintenance crews, passed over by North Face–wearing ecotards, and undiscovered by String Cheese Incident concert-followers. Here are just a few to enjoy, but don't be afraid to search out new ones on your own. At the east end of Columbian Way lies a stretch of greenery unnamed in the park guide. In honor of its untamed spirit, I won't give it a name either. Feel free to create your own, perhaps make a private joke. There are a couple of different access points. On 13th Avenue South is a fence, bordering the wilderness area, that you can jump. The going is a bit rough this time of year as it's lined with blackberry bushes, but if you visit at the end of the summer, you can leave your lunch at home: Nature will provide a feast worthy of Richard Conlin. There's also an access point at the end of South Hanford Street where it connects with 13th. Follow Hanford back and look for the opening in the hedge to your left. At the beginning, the trail is steep, and it may be beneficial to employ the flying-leap style of descent rather than picking your way down. Once you're at the bottom, it'll be time for a lunch. There's a chair here, and if you prop it up against a log, you can accommodate its missing leg. There's also a pair of shoes. If yours are worn out, trade 'em in. That's what they're there for. After lunch, continue on your way, and the trail will loop around a small campsite with a fire pit and arrive at a quaint cabin—well-constructed and well-hidden from the prying eyes of passersby. Nobody was home, so I didn't get to meet the Thoreau of Seattle's Walden. But if you're lucky, you might! Right before Beacon Avenue curves over I-5, there's a small parking area on your left, where the Washington State Department of Transportation has erected a No Trespassing sign. There are a number of picnic spots underneath the freeway to the west and underneath trees to the east. At the end of the trail, someone has spray-painted two green arrows on a tree to the right. Thus begins another trail. It winds a bit up the hill to a small clearing where someone has left a gallon of water for the parched hiker, as well as a foam mattress for a much-needed siesta. Who says Seattleites are cynical and jaded? The last entry on our passed-over parks tour is also my favorite. After a hard bit of soul-searching, I've decided it would be selfish to keep it for myself. Where Aurora Avenue shoots north out of downtown, keep an eye out to the left for the Northeast Queen Anne Greenbelt. Unfortunately, city parks officials have hyped this one up a bit. It has a name and a sturdy pedestrian bridge (at Galer Street) as an access point. There's also a giant billboard imploring passersby to "Discover the jewel of South Lake Union" (though this may reference nearby condos, not the greenbelt). Anyway, at the terminus of the bridge, the trail is marked with a sign that says "Private Property, No Trespassing, Violators Will be Prosecuted." Walk past this sign and keep an eye out for the trail to the left. The path winds up through the trees to the left and stops in a small clearing. Visitors have been here before as well. A cursory examination reveals beer cans, condom wrappers, and assorted food packaging. But if you look carefully, just right, through the brush and holly, you can see a tiny smidgen of Lake Union. What a jewel indeed! jfroehling@seattleweekly.com For more info see www.seattle.gov/parks.

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