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Capitol Hill pollinator pathway would create 11th Ave route for neighborhood bees, butterflies

If you think it can be difficult for a pedestrian to dart across E Madison traffic, try being a bumble bee. Creating a connection for the pollinators through the densely populated, heavily trafficked streets between Seattle University, Cal Anderson and Volunteer Park will be one of the problem researchers from the University of Washington Green Futures Lab and backers of the Capitol Hill Ecodistrict try to solve in creating a new Pollinator Pathway project along 11th Ave.

Part of the answer for the bees, says Ecodistrict director Joel Sisolak, is building higher.

“I think it’s important to know that pollinators don’t only travel right near ground level, which is why rooftop gardeners may be surprised to suddenly find bees working their potted plants 5 stories up,” Sisolak tells CHS.

Pathway work in the CD

Pathway work in the CD

The newly announced project is in the “pre-design” and “pre-development” phases “of a new 1.5 mile Pollinator Pathway® for native bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators between Seattle University’s grounds and the trees and gardens of Volunteer Park,” a statement on the initiative from Ecodistrict backer Capitol Hill Housing reads.

The Capitol Hill Ecodistrict set its first roots in 2011 thanks to a grant from the Bullitt Foundation. The most recent City of Seattle budget provided $45,000 for the effort to identify “opportunities for removing regulatory barriers that thwart sustainability goals, and create incentives for achieving City sustainability goals.”

The nonprofit developer is working with the Polinator Pathway movement founder Sarah Bergmann to shape a plan for “a busy new thoroughfare” merging “art, design, planning and science” that will “rebind and strengthen isolated green spaces across multiple scales and landscape types to achieve lasting, networked habitat.” It’s a mouthful. But it’s also a framework for strengthening existing green spaces along the route — and adding new ones.

A pathway in the Central District utilizes 20 gardens on Columbia to connect Seattle University to Nora’s Wood in the Madrona neighborhood. Another 40 gardens are planned. Compared to its Central District predecessor, a north-south pathway via 11th Ave would take the concept into the densest of human environments. While the Columbia corridor has primarily single family homes where gardens are hosted by homeowners in planting strips, an 11th Ave pathway will need to be integrated with small commercial, institutional, mixed use and apartment buildings.

On Capitol Hill, the plan at the moment is to utilize 11th Ave for the new pathway. “We like that it includes the eastern edge of Cal Anderson Park and the green space by Lowell Elementary School before reaching Volunteer Park,” Sisolak said in a statement about the plan. “It also could be a central piece of the new Arts District being planned for Capitol Hill.”

Sisolak says work has just begun to work with residents, landowners and developers along the route. Once funding for outreach is in place, Sisolak says the process of finding spaces for connective development can begin in earnest. At this point, organizers say the total budget required for the project isn’t yet known.

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8 thoughts on “Capitol Hill pollinator pathway would create 11th Ave route for neighborhood bees, butterflies

  1. I love the idea of pollinator pathways. The one through Squire Park up Columbia Street inspired me to plant bee- and butterfly-attracting plants on my own block (who can argue against more purple in the garden?), and I always walk up Columbia versus other streets since the pathway was created.

    I hope the 11th Avenue pathway combines high and low attractors so that stretch of street–especially from Seattle U to Cal Anderson–is prettier. I’m curious: Are Seattle neighborhoods outside of Squire Park also adopting pollinator pathways?

  2. Why is this such a big deal? Why not just give people packets of seeds or little plantlings and explain the benefits of planting them and taking care of them. Or better, organize some volunteers to look after the plants. Why on does this require grants and, worse yet, city money, i.e., my money? I’m sure this will be pretty when it’s done, but good grief, we’re talking about flower gardens here.

  3. Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the Pollinator Pathways or even host a garden on Columbia or 11th, please email me. jsisolak(at) We’re in the early stages of the 11th Ave project, but will plug folks in as we are able. Thanks!

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  5. Hi Joel,
    I am a teacher of a 3rd grade class. Our school, in the old Cornish building next to St Marks Cathedral, is just on the outer edge of the projected Pollinator Pathway and we would love to get involved. My kids are 16 8 and 9 year olds (plus myself and a couple of parent volunteers) and are hard workers. We have a garden in our school yard and basically use Volunteer Park as our playground. Not only that a couple of my students live in the pathway as well. Please contact us and let us know how we can help.
    I look forward to hearing from you,
    Skye Chamberlain (425 223 6865)
    Bright Water Waldorf School

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