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WALKING GREEN LAKE – A Seattle Favorite

By Mercedes Lawry

Photos by Darryl Brackett

Seattleites would not be surprised to learn that their city ranks as the third Best Walking City in the nation according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. There are countless wonderful places to walk — beaches, parks, and urban trails that meander through wooded areas and neighborhoods. One of the city’s favorites is the path around Green Lake. Nestled in north Seattle, this natural lake was scoured out by a glacier and is surrounded by a 323.7 acre park with all of the requisite recreational possibilities — paddleboats, playgrounds, fishing, swimming and wading pools, ball-fields and basketball courts, lawn bowling, and more.

But what hundreds of people come to Green Lake to do every day is walk. The 2.8 mile path around the lake is just long enough for a good workout. Thanks to the circular nature of the path, there is usually no need to decide when to turn back — once you start, you’re committed. It’s an ideal place to meet a friend for a walk and talk. For most, the approximate hour it takes to complete that circle can easily be squeezed in between other activities.

I’ve been walking Green Lake for over 25 years and I never tire of it. I love the seasonal changes and the fact that nature provides something different on every visit. You’ll always see ducks and coots and cormorants, but you might also see a heron or a bald eagle. No doubt birders who frequent the lake could give you an extensive list of the birds you’re likely to see. In the spring, the baby ducks are always a welcome and amusing sight. On the west side is what I call Turtle Log, where, on a sunny day, you might see a passel of turtles. I’ve seen up to seven at one time, including one persistent fellow who spent 15 minutes trying to clamber up the bobbing log.

Thanks to the efforts of the former Green Lake Park Alliance, many of the trees around the lake are labeled. If you’re serious about trees, you might consult Arthur Lee Jacobson’s The Trees of Green Lake. Plenty of people have been serious about those trees, even holding a memorial service for a stand of cottonwoods that were removed during renovation.

The “green” in Green Lake refers to the abundance of algae present, which can create a less than pleasing aroma. Today, you’ll see a rather cumbersome blue contraption out on the lake. It’s an aquatic plant harvester, used to rid the lake of weeds and milfoil. A group known as Friends of Green Lake (www.friendsofgreenlake.org) is also working actively on issues of water quality.

On one day, I may simply want to get my heart pumping and I’ll keep up a brisk pace around the lake. Another time I might stroll, inadvertently eavesdropping and noting the many different languages I hear (not that I can identify them all). Like most parks, Green Lake is a great place to people-watch.

On a beautiful weekend, you’ll need to be in the mood for all those people, as the path can become quite crowded. Walking on such a busy day, I’ve had the image that I’m negotiating traffic, just as if I’m driving in Seattle’s now famous congestion — merging, signaling, and staying alert.

However, there are plenty of times when there are few people about and it’s much easier to drift into a reverie. I’ve sometimes experienced what seems like a loss of time, suddenly realizing I’m not sure where I am and with no memory of how I reached this particular point on the lake.

Green Lake isn’t just for walkers and joggers, of course. There are bicyclists, scooter riders, and rollerbladers. The path has a history of conflict between wheels and feet. There have been collisions on the path, and in the past, some individuals have even called for a ban on wheels. In 1997 the city completed a renovation, widening the path to 18’ (13’ paved and 5’ of crushed gravel), designating two clear lanes for foot and wheel traffic. Periodic signs clearly indicate which is which and most people abide by this “courtesy code.”

Green Lake has its own traditions. On a sunny July day you might encounter the Seafair Milkcarton Derby, where watercraft, creatively constructed of plastic or paper milk cartons, prove their seaworthiness in races. If you come down on the evening of the second Saturday in December, you’ll find the lake has been transformed into a rather magical sight for the Pathway of Lights when it’s surrounded by luminarias, placed there by well-organized neighbors and volunteers. In the Community Center you’ll hear holiday music as you walk around the lake. The festival happens rain or shine.

Many Green Lake walkers are regulars, and one of the pleasures of this walk is that you often encounter someone you know. Mornings, you will regularly see young mothers with baby strollers. In the afternoons, you could find a high school track team has just swept by during their daily training run. Green Lake has plenty of parking lots on all sides of the lake, and accessible street parking as well. It’s also ringed by several coffee shops, restaurants, and several retail stores that carry walking and running gear. You’ll also find one of Seattle’s Carnegie branch libraries that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and, to the south end, Woodland Park Zoo.

Thanks to Good Times at Green Lake, Recipes for Seattle’s Favorite Park by Susan Banks and Carol Orr and the Seattle Public Library, Green Lake Branch Neighborhood Archives for information used in this article.

Mercedes Lawry is a freelance writer from Seattle WA.

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