Trail Completion to Begin at Yesler Swamp

Trailhead, Yesler swamp
Trailhead, Yesler swamp

Shovels, picks and hammers will be brought out this month to forge the final section of the Yesler Swamp trail, a much-anticipated finale to years of planning and fundraising.

Yesler Swamp, the 6-acre wooded wetland along the eastern border of the Center for Urban Horticulture has captivated local citizens, restoration ecologists and leaders at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens for close to a decade.

“The Yesler swamp is a perfect outdoor laboratory where students can study, investigate and take their classroom learning into nature,” states Fred Hoyt, Associate Director of UW Botanic Gardens.

And because the area is one of the last remaining swamp ecosystems along the Lake Washington shoreline (a swamp is a wetland dominated by trees and other woody species), scientists are keen to remove remaining invasive species, restore a multilevel canopy and study the natural succession of this marvelous public open space.

Bird watcher at Yesler Swamp
Rare Care
Bird watcher at Yesler Swamp

Hoyt, along with UW professor and restoration ecologist Dr. Kern Ewing, and a dedicated citizen group —the Friends of Yesler Swamp — have brought this amazing project to fruition.  It took an array of donors—from the City of Seattle to King County and numerous individuals—to get it this far.   The Washington Conservation Corps will begin the estimated 8-week project finale at the end of February.  The Friends group also still needs to match $11,000 in donations for the final City grant.

Trail work on new ADA-accessible entry path to Yesler Swamp. Photo courtesy of Friends of Yesler Swamp
Trail work on new ADA-accessible entry path. Photo courtesy of Friends of Yesler Swamp

Part of the trail has been completed in the last few years, so one can now follow a sturdy boardwalk out to the lake’s edge.  Ewing notes that over 200 species of birds have been seen here and in the adjacent Union Bay Natural Area, as well as raccoon, turtle, beaver, coyote and heron.  Last December, crews completed an ADA accessible entry to the path; once this final section is completed it will be a loop trail encircling the entire swamp area.  Graduate students of Ewing continue to study the area, which he describes as a “fantastic outdoor laboratory.”

This is an incredible transformation of an area that was once a sawmill and lumber business for Seattle pioneer and two-time mayor, Henry Yesler.

“The great thing about completing this trail,” says Dr. Ewing enthusiastically, “is that it is really just the beginning.” 

Ewing has numerous plans for future scientific studies, watching the transformation over time:  recently planted western red cedars and Sitka spruce will eventually grow into mature trees, enriching the canopy and species diversity, native plants will take root and crowd out the invasives, and the site will eventually return to a near natural state.