Open Letter: Oppose Mountain Bike Trails In Thornton Creek

An open letter from Ruth Williams, President of the Thornton Creek Alliance:

Dear Victory Heights Community Council:

We would like to be sure you are aware that Seattle Parks and Recreation is drafting trail standards for mountain biking in some of Seattle’s natural areas.  This is in response to the request of some of the forest stewards at Cheasty/Mountain View Greenspace on Beacon Hill.  They view it as a way to reduce crime in the natural area and to pick up the pace of restoration, since there is a great deal of support from the mountain biking community.  Their conceptual trail plan is here.  Additionally, now that the news is out in the community, BMX cyclists have also expressed an interest in asking for courses.

This change would require amending existing city policy with regard to allowed uses of our natural areas.  In Seattle Parks’ Best Management Practices guidelines here it now states in Paragraph 5.1, “Natural areas are characterized as being largely undeveloped landscapes, thickly vegetated with native plant communities, and used primarily for passive recreation. Natural areas are considered to have limited or minimal human disturbance and provide habitat for plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, amphibians and sometimes fish in an urban setting.

In Paragraph 5.5, Goals, the document further states, “Our goal is to develop a sustainable resource that protects, optimizes, enhances, and increases our natural environments. These environments will provide opportunities for observing and enjoying urban wildlife, engaging in environmental education, and participating in restoration and stewardship activities.”  As you see, the goals also would have to be changed, and one wonders, to what?

We would like to ask for your support in asking the Seattle City Council not to allow this change in use of our natural areas.

As you noted in the paragraph above, currently bicycles are not allowed in natural areas.  However, at the Seattle Parks Board meeting on Thursday evening, November 14th, 2013, Acting Superintendent Christopher Williams stated that as community interests evolve, so too must regulations and allowed park uses. When one of the commissioners cited the code and pointed out that mountain bike trials would be in conflict, Acting Supt. Williams said Parks will seek to amend the policy for Seattle’s natural areas in order to allow active uses such as mountain biking.  Generally, this would open the door to a much more anthropocentric treatment of our natural areas going forward.

Presumably Seattle’s mountain bike trails would be similar to Portland, Oregon’s standards, which are here, on page 31.  This would mean ripping out plantings, removing natural vegetation, regrading the soil, and providing drainage to prevent erosion, in order to create a minimum 40’ line of sight and trail widths of six to twelve feet when you factor in the one foot margin on either side.

Wildlife that was absent for decades is starting to return to many of our natural areas as the impacts of logging and invasive plants are mitigated.  We are aware that there is research supporting the idea that mountain biking does not harm wildlife, but that research was all carried out in mature forests in multi-square-mile national or state parks, not in the smaller, fragile and developing ecosystems of our urban forests.

In Seattle’s quest for urban density, forested land is at a premium and valued for increasing habitat and the tree canopy.  Natural areas should not be degraded with additional compressed and dead soils.  Forest restoration should be the priority.  Mountain biking does not require a forest, and adding this new use to the natural areas does not make them available to a new group of users (since bicyclists are able-bodied) as the newly required ADA standard trails will do.  As yet there has been NO discussion about how to have these two user groups work together.

Last month Dr Steven Handel, director of the Center for Urban Restoration Ecology at Rutgers University, spoke here in Seattle.  He was asked about this conflict.  He said one of the main issues is the increase in compressed, dead soils that results when you add and widen trails.  He also said that the only way to keep everybody on the trails and out of the plantings is to use fencing.

We at Thornton Creek Alliance have asked that the code remain unchanged.  If that cannot be done, we requested that at a minimum clear and specific parameters should be set, so that mountain biking will be allowed only at a couple of the largest natural areas with considerable space, limited habitat potential, and not considered Environmentally Critical Areas.  Additionally, since the vast majority of the area in the Thornton Creek natural areas is listed as Environmentally Critical, we requested that these natural areas be exempt in their entirety from active uses.

The Seattle Parks Board will be issuing their recommendation at the January 7th, 2014 meeting.

A couple of other resources are here:

Opinion piece by Denise Dahn in the Seattle Times (November 23, 2013),

Article by Lee Springgate (former Bellevue Parks director) for the Project for Public Places,

Communications should go to:

City Council Parks Committee –;;;

Parks Board –

Urban Forestry Commission –

Parks Trails Planner –

We would appreciate your support in this matter  If we can be of any assistance as you look into it please let us know.


Ruth Williams, President

Thornton Creek Alliance


[Ruth Williams is the former editor of “A Place of the Towering Firs,” the precursor to the Victory Heights Blog.]

Kingfisher Work Party On Sept. 25

Lynnette Spear helps pull invasive ivy around Thornton Creek

Lynnette Spear helps pull invasive ivy around Thornton Creek

Green City Partnerships announces an “early dismissal” volunteer work party at the Kingfisher Natural Area (aka Thornton Creek at 17th Avenue NE) on Wednesday, September 25th from 1 PM to 3 PM.

We’re kicking off our Fall Service calendar with this fast, high-energy work party.

For two hours, we are going to bust some dragon piles (break them down to more discrete mulch piles and trail logs), battle bindweed, and pull ivy along the lower 17th Avenue trail from access road to rock-hop.

You’ll get a quick lesson in invasive removal and urban forestry safety, so be ready to work at 1pm. This will be your chance to wear your branch-breaking boots and collect some service hours.

Sign up to volunteer on their website. It’s a great chance to meet and interact with the folks who help keep Thorton Creek a special place in Victory Heights.

Dr. Jonathan Frodge To Discuss Thornton Creek E.coli Study June 27th

thorntoncreekalliancelogoThe Thornton Creek Alliance meeting on Thursday, June 27th will feature Dr. Jonathan Frodge, author of the recent well-publicized study showing dangerous levels of E.coli in Thornton Creek.

You’ll hear more about the recent Seattle Public Utilities two year study on bacteria levels in Thornton Creek. In some cases, the levels are fifty times higher than the criteria for a healthy stream. Come get the details, learn about the next steps, and bring your questions. Free and open to the public.

The meeting is 7:15 pm – 9:00 pm at the Meadowbrook Community Center, 10517 35th Avenue Northeast, Seattle, WA 98125.

Everyone is welcome!

Barred Owls Seen Near Thornton Creek

Take a look at this photo. Can you find three owls?
owls1If you didn’t spot them, scroll down to the second photo below with hints.

These Barred Owls were seen Tuesday in Thornton Creek Park #2, southeast of the 15th Avenue NE bridge. The photographer speculates, “they appeared to be a family, but I am not a wildlife expert.”

According to a wikipedia article,

Barred Owls may be partly responsible for the recent decline of the Northern Spotted Owl, native to Washington, Oregon, and California. Since the 1960s, Barred Owls have been expanding their range westward from the eastern US, perhaps because man-made changes have created new suitable habitat in the west. When Spotted Owls and Barred Owls share the same environment, the latter are generally more aggressive and out-compete the former, leading to decreased populations of the native owls.

Due to this, in 2007 the George W. Bush White House announced a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to shoot Barred Owls to reduce the threat they pose to the Spotted Owl. It was never put into action.










Video: What’s big and furry and likes to climb trees?

I spotted this large raccoon yesterday waddling across my backyard in the middle of the day, pretty much on the same path that many of the neighborhood cats use. Today I caught it in action near the side of my house with my video camera. Being a bit shy, it scrambled up a tree.

This animal is very large and could easily take any of the local cats. Please, cat owners, be aware we live close to a wildlife area and there most definitely IS wild life out there.

Coyotes In The Neighborhood

When I first moved to Victory Heights in 2009 I was walking up NE 100th Street early one evening when I looked up the street to see a silhouette of what appeared to be a dog standing at the top of the rise. I was maybe 100 yards away from it at the time, but I noticed it had really pointed ears and I thought, “That’s a really funny looking dog.” It noticed me and then took off, which is when I realized I had seen my first coyote! I should point out it’s the ONLY one I’ve seen so far, outnumbered by many racoons over the years and of course the ubiquitous cats that live in our neighborhood.

There’s been some concern lately about coyotes getting at pets, particularly as Terri Bell (the goat lady) reported one of her ducks went missing just before Thanksgiving. A number of cats have disappeared recently as well.

Meanwhile, Google, in an attempt to aggregate all knowledge, hosts a convenient NW Coyote Tracker website if you spot one.

Aaron tracked down a coyote biologist at the USDA Wildlife Service named Matt Stevens who said our neighborhood experience with urban coyotes is rather typical (occasional sightings, missing cats, missing small animals), and doesn’t warrant intervention at this time.  But we should keep a sharp eye out for escalating behavior.

Matt’s advice for our urban setting:

  • If you witness brazen, aggressive behavior towards humans or pets, call 911.
  • If you see a coyote, get “big”, stand tall, throw rocks, make noise, scare it away.  But don’t put yourself in harm’s way.
  • If you see a coyote, report it (when, where, how many, what were they doing).  Advise you neighbors for their protection (block watch email/blog is great).
  • Prevent attracting them, keep pet food inside.  Don’t feed coyotes.  Conceal garbage.
  • Keep you animals indoors, especially at night.  Coyotes are most aggressive from fall to early spring due to mating season.
  • See attached coyote fact sheet flyer for more insight.

And if it escalates, intervention methods are available from the USDA Wildlife Service. They will come assess the situation, inform option.  There is a fee for performing intervention, roughly $400-$800 depending on the situation.

Finally, Melinda Frye recalls, “I grew up across the lake next door to St. Edwards Park, which has a high population of ‘urban’ wild life. Occasionally, you would hear a coyote or a pack howl or hear of a missing pet, but they tended to stay away from humans (assuming a human was not foolishly trying to make ‘friends’).  In my entire youth, growing up on the border of St. Ed’s, with the woods going up to our back door, (perhaps I was oblivious as a teen) I never ever saw one walk in to the neighborhood that I lived in. The raccoons were way more brazen and vicious (and I’ve seen several of those in our hood). The other thing I remember, is everyone who did actually see them (before the coyote would run off) said they were mixed with other breeds. They looked like coyote and beagle or lab, etc.  So just remember to be cautious when approaching a stray, anyways. It would make sense that we might have a coyote population with our wooded area, though I am not inclined to worry. More likely they are keeping the raccoon and rat population down in Thornton creek/the watershed area.”

The River Wild

After a weekend of solid rain, Thornton Creek swelled to nearly overflow its banks at the Knickerbocker site (20th Avenue NE) as seen here at 9 AM on Monday, November 19th. The Floodplain project (see previous article here) to be done next summer will lessen the effects of torrential rain by storing the water and slowing the creek.




Watch a YouTube video:

Knickerbocker Restoration Would be “First In The Nation”

Mike “Rocky” Mrachovec of SPU outlined the Knickerbocker Floodplain project Thursday.

The Knickerbocker Floodplain Project on Thornton Creek will include innovative subsurface restoration techniques that would be the first of its kind in the nation and part of a studied, living laboratory, according to Mike Hrachovec of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU).  Mike, known to everyone as “Rocky,” is a SPU engineer who has been designing the floodplain restoration on and off for seven years as funding came in leaps and starts. He gave an enthusiastic talk Thursday night at Sacawajea Elementary School as part of SPU presentation for local residents about the project which is planned to begin construction next summer.

Nearly two dozen members of the public attended including the original Knickerbocker family the site is named after (they sold the first parcel to SPU and the Parks Department including their house just south of NE 100th which has since been demolished). Cheryl Eastberg with the Parks Department began the meeting by describing the history of the project and acquisitions of property around Thornton Creek including the Rossi property on the south side of Thornton Creek that was accessed via the wooden bridge at the end of NE 100th Street (which will be replaced by a rock ford once the project is done).

Katherine Lynch then talked about the funding that made the project happen. Although the city has been interested in creating the floodplain for the past seven years, funding had all but dried up two years ago just as plans had finally been developed. A grant from the King County Conservation District helped move the project forward, while the Thornton Creek Watershed Oversight Committee sought out further funding which finally came from the Washington State Department of Ecology, the EPA, and most importantly Sound Transit which kicked in for floodplain mitigation as part of its Northgate Light Rail station project.

The main goals of the Knickerbocker project are 1) improve instream and riparian habitat, 2) optimize floodplain storage and slow peak flows, and 3) serve as a demonstration project. “Rocky” then began describing the process of engineering which he called, “an incredibly complex design.” Using the area of the creek just west of NE 102nd as a model for what the Knickerbocker site should look like (though with more large wood), he said the city needed to correct what been engineering dogma throughout the 50s and 60s, namely taking out any large trees and installing retaining walls.  “We shattered the habitat in the process,” he said. The Knickerbocker project will rip out the rockeries and retaining walls, remove 9,000 yards of dirt and replace it with logs (mainly under the surface) and create a floodplain.  Restoration will not only occur on the surface (with indigenous plants and rerouting and widening the creek), but under the surface as well by rebuilding the entire subsurface, a first-in-the-nation effort.  He admitted it would be “a radical experiment in stream ecology,” and “we’re just making educated guesses,” but as part of an ongoing plan the area would be monitored and studied extensively with adjustments made where needed. If you would like to see an extensive 30-page technical drawing of the project, check out this pdf from the city.

Project manager Arnel Valmonte talked about scheduling. Right now the project is at “90% design.” If any changes are to be made, now is the time. They hope to finish the design work by May 2013 and have all the permitting done. The earliest they could begin is June 2013 and wrapped up by the end of October.  They need to work around the fish window giving them between July 1st and August 30th as the creek is diverted into pipes while the construction goes on. An 80 foot bridge will replace the current one over Thornton Creek (part of the 20th Ave NE walkway), and they are timing it not to interfere with the school year as many students use it to access Sacawajea from Victory Heights.

Contractors in theory work from 8 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday but have the discretion to work past those hours and on weekends. Neighbors will be kept informed of activity if it impacts them. There will be noise and vibrations associated with the work, and the city will attempt to deal with problems with nearby residents.

Finally, Deb Hayden talked about the future of the site after construction is completed. “Our intention is to let the site grow naturally,” she said, but other than noxious weeds and invasive species being managed they want to remain hands-off. Sound Transit would assume responsibility for managing and maintaining the site (i.e. be paying the bills) for the first five years, after which it would be the domain of the Parks Department. “We’re open to feedback,” was the message.

Visit the City’s official Knickerbocker Floodplain website.

Kingfisher Work Party Sunday

Rick reminds us of the biweekly (1st and 3rd Sunday of each month) Thornton Creek restoration work party coming up on the 15th beginning at 10 AM:

Hello everyone,

We are meeting this Sunday, please join if you can, we need your help! Tell your friends.

Additionally there is a work party hosted by Ruth at the Beaver Pond Natural Area,  Tuesday the 17th. (East of Northgate library.)

See you all soon, and don’t forget to register at Green City Partnerships.

What to Bring

Hand tools, gloves, eye protection, water, dress for the weather, sturdy boots and long sleeves. Extra gloves and tools may be provided. **We currently do not have a need for power tools**

Where to Meet

Meet at the creek where it intersects with the 17th Ave NE trail

Where to Park

Street parking near trailhead located at intersection of 17th Ave. NE & 104th St.
**17th Ave is only accessible from the North and East**

Date & Time

July 15, 2012 10am – 12pm

Sound Transit: Northgate Wetlands Mitigation Would Be Spent on Knickerbocker Project

Thursday night’s meeting of the Thornton Creek Alliance featured employees of Sound Transit who spoke at length about the impact of Link light rail construction on Thornton Creek. As part of the mitigation for impacting the wetlands at Northgate, Sound Transit has proposed paying for Seattle Public Utilities Knickerbocker Project in Victory Heights. SPU has no funds to finance the project itself which began with test drilling last week. While it might seem unfair and unconnected to the Northgate project, the amount of space to increase wetlands at Northgate (which often dry up during the summer) is limited due to the existing interstate and surface streets. Whereas the Knickerbocker Project, described as “shovel ready,” would be a substantial improvement to the quality of Thornton Creek. The Sound Transit money is not enough to finance the entire cost of the project which could still be delayed or canceled, but it is hoped it will attract grants to make up the rest.

During the six year construction of the Northgate Link Light Rail next to 1st Ave NE, Thornton Creek will be diverted into a culvert to protect it from dirt and other runoff. This was agreed by all the parties as the best solution, after which the creek would be daylighted again except for a 20 foot section to allow truck access across. A proposed pedestrian bridge over I-5 would cost an estimated $20 million. Sound Transit is committing $5 million to study it, with the city matching it with another $5 million. The rest would have to come from other sources if it were to be built.

Other TCA business included a unanimous vote to add Heather Ferguson to the board, revise membership levels, and a report from the treasurer of sufficient funds to finance activity through March 2013.

Brad Johnson reported that barring a last minute appeal, SPU would begin its controversial work on Meadowbrook Pond on July 9th.  Fifty to sixty trees are to be removed as part of much needed dredging in the pond (some places are only six inches deep).  Three hundred and eighty dump truck loads of sentiment (and invasive mudsnails) are to hauled to a site in Monroe for processing as safe soil.

After the meeting, a brief tour was made of the Meadowbrook Pond and confluence area around the community center.