2019 survey could help set path for Volunteer Park to fully reach Seattle’s 1903 park vision

Volunteer Park circa 1913

Volunteer Park could one day be in line for a $760,000+ upgrade of its paths, plantings, and entryways to help the Capitol Hill green space more fully meet the vision of its original Olmsted design. Brothers John and Frederick Jr. carried forward father Frederick Olmsted’s philosophies and practices of landscape design to create some of America’s greatest urban parks and campuses. In 1903, the city hired the brothers to create a family of parks and boulevards across Seattle.

116 years later, Seattle Parks is conducting a survey to help it prioritize restoration investment in the city’s multitude of Olmsted-designed parks and boulevards:

Seattle Parks and Recreation needs your input on prioritizing future Olmsted Park and Boulevard restoration projects. Based on your input, future projects could provide restoration in several different Olmsted parks/boulevards around the city. A study conducted in 2018 looked at 10 different sites to assess existing conditions, research historical design intent, and determine restoration feasibility.

Sites assessed included:

  • Magnolia Boulevard                         • Volunteer Park
    • Queen Anne Boulevard                                • Schmitz Park
    • Lake Washington Boulevard parks              • Woodland Park
    • Lakeview Park                                   • Washington Park
  • Colman Park
  • Mount Baker Park

The survey closes Friday, March 1st.

A study completed last year, below, examined the ten sites under consideration for restoration work including Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park. The study lays out recommendations for each and estimated construction costs.

Selecting Volunteer Park for work would be tantamount to putting the final touches on one of the city’s most polished Olmsted parks. “Volunteer Park is one of Seattle’s most developed and most intact Olmsted landscapes,” the study reads. “That is likely because of its location in a wealthier neighborhood, but also because John Charles Olmsted spent several years involved in the design and development of the park between 1904 and 1912.”

Because of its excellent condition, Volunteer Park would allow “for more precision in implementing John Charles Olmsted’s plans,” the study notes. Work would include planting, formally incorporating the park’s many “social paths” and enhancing its entrances to better connect with the surrounding neighborhood.

The park has already undergone a series of improvements under the guidance of the Volunteer Park Trust including updated lighting and new fencing around its ponds, and is in the middle of more including the overhaul and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum expected to be wrapped up later this year.

Other efforts underway includes path work you may have noticed on recent visits:

Through an inclusive planning process in partnership with the Capitol Hill Community, Seattle Parks and Recreation, the National Park Service, Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP), Volunteer Park Trust (VPT) and many other local and regional stakeholders, the Seattle Art Museum is in the process of constructing two historic Olmsted pathways, improving the surfacing of existing park pathways, strengthening the connection between 15th Avenue/ public transit and the park, and improving safe pedestrian circulation around the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

That work is expected to be completed by this spring.

Other parts of the Olmsted vision will, sadly, never see the light of day in the park. The study describes the original plan for a playground “intended for older children” along the park’s western edge:

The playground was intended for older children, with apparatus laid out in the plan along the existing western border of the park. Olmsted strongly recommended that the Parks Board acquire the remainder of the land between the park border and Federal Avenue, but it was not purchased and houses were built on the lots. When the playground was proposed, neighbors opposed its placement because of noise concerns and the playground was moved to the northeast corner of the park, near the “Little Folks Lawn” and wading pool.

For more, check out the Olmsted study, below.

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11 thoughts on “2019 survey could help set path for Volunteer Park to fully reach Seattle’s 1903 park vision

  1. How about adapting some of the needs to those of us who use the parks daily, or at least a regular basis?

    I don’t have children. I don’t want children. Most of my friends don’t have children. We have dogs. We are homeowners that are continually being asked to raise our taxes to support the schools – the same schools we don’t use. I *DO* want kids to have good schools, that’s a no brainer. I’m willing to pay for them – but I don’t use them.

    For 10 years, I visit the park nearly every day with my dog.
    There are more dogs on Capitol Hill than children (look at the numbers). Have you seen how many dogs are on Capitol Hill? They are everywhere, and there is no where for them to run. Take a look at a map of how much area has been dedicated to parks, then try and find a single place we can let our dogs run off leash, legally. Not one place anywhere on Capitol Hill . (oh wait, there’s that little playground under the freeway at the base of Capitol Hill that’s 45 blocks away from where I live. My 12 year old lab isn’t going to make that trip. It’s loud and kinda gross. You ever been there at night?).

    I’m a responsible dog owner. I clean up after my dog, as do most of us. I look around, and generally when I am there, there is no one in sight. I let my dog off leash (who also responds to vocal cues) but the one person that appears is the park patrol – and they love their job. What I get is a $135 ticket, again, and again. He hides in his vehicle, just waiting for someone like me to come along. Never a warning.

    Haters like Ellen Taft (a pretty well known local dog hater and major opponent to creating anything related to dogs) but she is one voice, and certainly in the minority.

    Dogs need somewhere to run, responsibly! Where can we enjoy the park with our pets off leash? Where are they supposed to go? Whether it’s certain hours of the day, or a separate area designated for off leash activities – this needs to be addressed with the amount of space there is in Volunteer Park. The reservoir (if needing to be decommissioned) would be ideal! Even Central Park in New York was able to come up with a plan… (designated off leash hours) yet our Volunteer Park can’t address this?

    On a somewhat different topic, and unless I’m mistaken, I would like to thank whoever was able to save the wonderful trees around the Art Museum. I was under the impression that they were slated for removal. I hope they remain.

    • Volunteer Park actually did an off-leash area trial – basically most of the East slope – several years ago.
      It turned out that the concentration of urine was too high for the trees in the area and because the surface remained grass, it was basically a mud pit (unless grass off-leash areas are very large, they will become a mud pit, which is why pea gravel is preferred in the city).
      So yes, dogs need to be on a leash if they are in the park.

      • Establishing off-leash areas for dogs in parks actually encourages more illegal off-leash use. You can see this in Kinnear Park, for example. There are people who do not use our parks because they are afraid of dogs that are off-leash illegally. Dogs should not have priority over those people. Perhaps owning a dog that is too large to exercise on a leash is not a good idea in the city. How many children versus dogs live on Capitol Hill is irrelevant.

    • Yes. The question is: where? I’d say the long, lower path along the east boundary. A sizable, legal dog run would get tons of use and take some of the pressure off the other “furtive” off-leash locations. Now you just need to start lobbying for it. Probably a lot of support is out there.

    • Yes. The question is: where? I’d say the long, lower path along the west boundary. A sizable, legal dog run would get tons of use and take some of the pressure off the other “furtive” off-leash locations. Now you just need to start lobbying for it. Probably a lot of support is out there.

      • Again, it’s been tried and led to serious damage to park trees and illegal off-leash activity.

        There is no right to exercise your animal at the expense of the destruction of park resources and other people’s use of their parks.

  2. I see mention of the “removal of social trails”. This appears to be a reference to paths worn down by people regularly walking where there is not an official path. The fact that people are walking along these paths seems to indicate that perhaps they should be considered for upgrading rather than removal.

  3. Olmsted boosters often use the word “vision” where “one-off landscaping plans” is more accurate.

    The Olmsteds were consultants, not gospelers. They made recommendations to a client, who implemented them as was feasible or desirable. Some cities chucked the plans entirely because they were impractical or didn’t serve local needs.

    John Charles Olmsted had some nice ideas that went into Volunteer Park but we don’t need to pretend it has the cachet of his father’s grand projects like Central Park. It’s ok if a few elements are left out or modified.

    The east-west paths by the museum are a great addition that fills a mobility gap. But do we really need to sink money into realigning existing paths by a few feet? Are there other park improvements that could better meet modern needs?

  4. “Wes” – you’re incorrect with “how many children versus dogs live on Capitol Hill is irrelevant.” It’s completely relevant. There is already a huge area for your little booger eaters to run wild on the north end of the park, but no-where for dogs to run. According to the most recent numbers, there is approx 1.5 dogs for every 1 child on Capitol Hill. All dogs need a place to run – not just large breeds.

    It could be argued “why do children get a special area?. The whole park is already set aside for humans. Instead of countering your logic with “maybe the city isn’t a place for children if they need to play” perhaps we could instead look at finding a place for everyone to enjoy the park, including dogs.

    Currently, the *only* option for dogs to run anywhere on Capitol Hill is illegal. It is already happening (have you even been to the park recently?). That doesn’t really seem fair for the number of dog owners out there. I was just at the park – and there are plenty of areas away from trees being impacted by urine. I also think converting (at least part of) the reservoir is a great idea if needing to be converted.

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