This is an envisioning document to assist in forming a Friends of North SeaTac Park group. Header photo shows a few of over 200 competitors in the Northwest Mountain Bike Series “Wednesday Night World Championships” held in North SeaTac Park on Aug 11, 2021.
“…The Park is the culmination of a long term and very open planning process to compensate the area's residents for cumulative airport impacts” and is “the best compatible use of a severely airport-impacted area.” (FAA Compliance Reviews of Airport Noise Land Use & Financial Operations: SeaTac Intl Airport, 2016)
North SeaTac Park is a dazzling treasure. Its 200 acres contain large areas of mature forest, wetlands, the headwaters and multiple tributaries of Miller Creek, and Tub Lake, a prehistoric bog that according to author David B. Williams, is the only “true bog” left in the Seattle area. There are salmon in this park’s waterways and owls in its canopy. Inside its high-oxygen environment, under towering trees, are a complex network of mountain bike trails, acres of disc golf, multiple ballfields, Ryan Field, “the only facility dedicated to rugby in Western Washington,” miles of walking trails, Highline Botanical Garden, and other regionally important amenities.
This park’s natural areas are critical infrastructure for the health and well-being of the surrounding communities, reducing noise, heat, pollution, and stress for residents highly impacted by environmental health disparities. They also provide important habitat connections in our region’s increasingly fragmented ecosystem of forests and waterways.
The park is rich in history. It’s sited on unceded traditional land of the first people in our region, people of the Duwamish Tribe and other tribes, past and present. On the west, it’s bordered by Des Moines Memorial Drive, a Living Road of Remembrance for 355 men and women of King County who perished in World War I. This photo shows one of the few remaining elm trees of the 1,200 planted along this road to honor them. Highline Botanical Garden contains another living memorial for a fallen soldier, the historic Seike Japanese Garden.
In the 1970s and 80s, the Port removed thousands who lived on this land - along with their houses, schools, and places of business, to make more room for the airport. Remnants of home foundations, backyard gardens, and roads remain throughout the park.
The neighborhoods surrounding the park are among the most diverse in the state. In a reverse echo of successive human displacements from this land, large numbers of people displaced from elsewhere in the region and across the globe live here, drawn to more affordable housing. This includes people impacted by generations of state-sanctioned wealth-handicapping of non-whites. It includes immigrants and refugees, far from the lands where they were born. Highline Public Schools reports that 99 languages are spoken by students in the district.
Preserving this park and the forested areas around it would honor the natural and human history of this area and protect the well-being of those who live here now and those to come.
North SeaTac Park is zoned not as a park but as “aviation commercial.” It faces multiple threats from commercial development, invasive weeds, pollution, and waterway degradation.
The Port of Seattle, which owns most of the land that the park is on, as well as many acres of land around it, has the right to take over a 55-acre forested parcel inside the park “at any time”. Its remaining acreage is secured for park use only until 2045. Over the years, piece by piece, the Port has replaced many acres of forested land surrounding this park with airport facilities. The Port now proposes developments as part of its Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) that would destroy an estimated dozen or more forested acres near the park. Its Real Estate Strategic Plan identifies nearly 100 additional acres of forested land surrounding and inside the park as “available” for development. Thirty-one of those immediately “available” acres are inside the park. As long as the park is zoned Aviation Commercial, it can eventually be developed in its entirety by The Port.
Non-native weeds dominate much of the forest inside the park, felling trees and crowding out native undergrowth, while salmon and other aquatic life are threatened by pollution and the continuing loss - through development - of natural habitat that surrounds and protects them.
The Port of Seattle has invested significant funds in waterway and forest restoration in and around the park. But it has no comprehensive plan for protecting these valuable and highly sensitive natural resources. And the impact of its restorative actions are vastly outweighed by the tree cutting and commercial development it has engaged in and continues to plan.
A successful defender group could save this regionally important green space, bringing social justice, public health, climate stabilization, and ecological benefits. Some specific work this group could do:
Publicly advocate for preservation of the park, including with governmental agencies and media;
Gather and present scientific and other data demonstrating the human health, fiscal, and other values of our urban forest;
Apply for and administer donations, grants and funding to protect the park and restore the health of its forest;
Ally with other organizations including other Friends of the Park groups and those dedicated to public health, environmental justice, ecological protection, and climate stability on behalf of our interconnected urban forest;
Provide public education and outreach in multiple languages;
Engage in legal action to protect the park;
Develop a public engagement plan to organize forest restoration work and park protection;
Be a source for media and other public inquiries;
Maintain a website, mailing list, and other public communications;
Help monitor the condition of the park’s natural areas and plan for keeping them healthy even as climate impacts will likely place additional stress on them;
Partner with entities that offer paid apprenticeship and work-training programs in the emerging field of urban forest restoration;
A small group of inspired people can, together, save a major regional park from development and degradation, protecting the health, property values, and happiness of people who live in this community. First steps might include:
Creating a statement expressing the group’s core principles and purpose (see below)
Self-organizing into a work group and naming that group in order to communicate with one voice
Establishing a meeting schedule, communications system, and group tasks and norms
Planning a recruitment process that that would meaningfully invite people from all major community stakeholder groups - including those noted in the “Lives to Safeguard and Honor” section above, and that would result in the organization being led by people with a diverse range of skills and backgrounds
Deciding whether nonprofit formation or fiscal sponsorship should be pursued
Determining an initial workplan and timeline.
North SeaTac Park and its forest and waterways, including those that extend into the neighborhoods outside its boundaries, reduce noise, heat, pollution, and stress in communities that are highly impacted by environmental health disparities. They are life-saving infrastructure.
The trees and green spaces within and around this park also preserve the use and value of surrounding privately-owned residential and business properties and support other critical social benefits, including recreational opportunities and community livability.
These forested areas are a sustaining part of our increasingly fragmented and endangered regional green infrastructure, and provide critical habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife.
The climate, health, ecological, property value, recreational, and other benefits that the mature trees in this forest provide to the community cannot be replaced with new trees elsewhere - even in a 3-to-1 ratio.
The Port has acknowledged that “…the Park is the culmination of a long term and very open planning process to compensate the area's residents for cumulative airport impacts” and that “the Park is the best compatible use of a severely airport-impacted area.” (FAA Compliance Reviews of Airport Noise Land Use & Financial Operations: SeaTac Intl Airport, 2016)
For these reasons and more, public agencies should join with community members in defending and safeguarding this critical infrastructure. They should refrain from destroying any part of it for commercial development and work actively to support a comprehensive restoration plan so that this critical green infrastructure is not lost to invasive weeds, climate impacts, and other harms.
Email us at info@KCTreeEquity.org. Tell us your name and a little bit about your connection with this green space.