Friday, March 5, 2010

Parks & Open Space System Plan Taking Shape

The blog has been silent recently as all writing attention was shifted to the edits and re-writes necessary to update the 2003 Plan to meet 2010 expectations. The plan is still in its draft form and will continue that way until it is reviewed and approved by the Bellevue City Council. This should take place in the next few months.

A draft of the full plan will be posted to the project web page before the end of March. In the meantime, I would like to share the introductory section from the working draft here. Let me know if you like it, if you don't or if you notice a glaring grammatical error. I will admit up front to run-on sentences, but if you see a dangling participle, I'd like to know about it.

Also, a reminder that all the previous blog posts are still available for you to peruse and add comments where you like (most discussion topics can be found in August 2009).

DRAFT - 2010 Bellevue Parks & Open Space System Plan - DRAFT


In 1888, John Muir saw Bellevue in a way that few others had ever seen and in a way that is impossible today. Muir was a celebrated naturalist, whose detailed and emotion-filled written descriptions of the American West were widely published in national magazines. His writings painted a picture of natural wonder so compelling that he is credited as one of the driving forces behind the creation of this county’s National Parks system.

In a published collection of essays and travelogues entitled, Steep Trails, Muir describes how from his home in Yosemite, California, he ventured north by ship up the Pacific Coast, through the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and into Puget Sound. Landing in Seattle, he visited several points in East King County, including Snoqualmie Falls, on his way to attempt a climb to the summit of Mount Rainier.

With a party of eight, Muir reached the summit on a beautifully clear day with views of Washington Territory in all directions. Muir later wrote, “We remained on the summit nearly two hours, looking about us at the vast maplike views, comprehending hundreds of miles of the Cascade Range, with their black interminable forests and white volcanic cones in glorious array reaching far into Oregon; the Sound region also, and the great plains of eastern Washington, hazy and vague in the distance.” Included in his view, an expanse of heavily forested rolling hills directly east of Seattle, bounded by two large sparkling lakes.

This was Bellevue as John Muir saw it, just over 120 years ago. The tiny settlement around Meydenbauer Bay and scattered farms were perhaps not even visible, and if so, certainly dwarfed by the huge expanse of untouched forests, lakes and streams. Yet, sensing this area’s future, Muir noted that “[Washington Territory] is already rich in busy workers, who work hard, though not always wisely, hacking, burning, blasting their way deeper into the wilderness, beneath the sky and beneath the ground. The wedges of development are being driven hard, and none of the obstacles or defenses of nature can long withstand the onset of this immeasurable industry.”

Since that time and in keeping with Muir’s assessment, exponential growth and development has led to a vastly different environment on these rolling hills between the lakes. According to a study commissioned by the City in 2008, Bellevue’s once dominant tree canopy has diminished to 36% of the city’s land area. Impervious surfaces (any type of surface that does not allow water to travel to the ground below, primarily streets and rooftops) have spread to cover 46% of the city. Within the foreseeable future, there is a strong possibility that balance will tip and the majority of Bellevue’s land area will be either paved or otherwise built upon.

This pattern and pace of development has produced a change in the community’s perception of the natural environment. In the early 20th Century, the natural environment was valued as resource to be reclaimed and repurposed for uses perceived to be more beneficial, such as farming, mining and lumber. Today, in the early 21st Century, the natural environment is valued as a resource to be recaptured or preserved for other types of uses now perceived to be more beneficial. These benefits include acting as a “green infrastructure” system , providing a range of economic benefits and supporting development of a healthy community. Evidence of this shift in priorities is shown through a survey of Bellevue residents in September 2009 where 76% of respondents agreed that Bellevue Parks & Community Services should place a priority on improving the health and ecological function of forest, wetland, lakes and streams.

Working as a green infrastructure system, the forests, wetlands and open areas that Bellevue has preserved through its interconnected park and open space system clean water, clean air and absorb carbon emissions. They are a piece of infrastructure as important as the city’s roads and sewers. A 2008 Urban Ecosystem Study calculated that Bellevue’s tree canopy provides 62 million cubic feet in stormwater detention services and removes 687,000 pounds of pollutants from the air annually. Further, it absorbs 2,582 tons of carbon each year, helping to reduce the city’s overall carbon emissions.

Bellevue’s parks provide economic value to city residents. Many studies have shown that parks are a good investment for a community. John Crompton, a professor at Texas A&M University has published several studies showing how providing parks within neighborhoods attracts homebuyers and increases property values. Parks also attract economic development. Early Bellevue residents recognized this fact by using parks and recreation to draw tourists to the small town. In her history of Bellevue, titled The Bellevue Story, Connie Squires writes, “As a result of these steamers [ferries crossing Lake Washington], Wildwood Park was set up near the present Meydenbauer Yacht Club. This became a large attraction for Sunday Seattle picnickers… later a large dance hall was built there and eventually it was used as a skating rink…” Today, in addition to local tourism, high quality parks, schools and other quality of life indicators are used increasingly by businesses to decide where to locate their offices, seeking places to retain and attract a productive and well-educated workforce.

Parks play a significant role in the community’s overall health. Access to and contact with nature provides medical benefits including lowering blood pressure and stress indicators, decreasing recovery time from surgery, and improving symptoms of mental health and behavioral disorders. For example, one study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that access to places for physical activity led to a 25.6% increase in the percentage of people exercising on three or more days per week.

By cleaning the environment, supporting a high quality of life and encouraging healthy lifestyles, the investment the community has made in the parks system pays itself back.

The community’s vision for how parks and open space should serve the city is captured in the Bellevue Parks & Open Space Plan. The plan is a long-range planning document that guides the City’s continued investments in parks and open spaces. The Plan is begins with a general description of Bellevue’s demographic profile and its physical and natural resource characteristics. From there, the mission of the Parks & Community Services department is provided along with an overview of the scope and functions of the organization. With this context in place, a detailed discussion of future recommended capital projects is presented for the years 2010 to 2029. The plan ends with sections regarding the importance of maintenance, renovation and security as well as methods of financing considered to implement the recommended projects.


  1. Great read! That sounds like a very good intro to why Bellevue needs an excellent parks system.

    I'm a local resident who uses Bellevue parks and trails on a daily basis. I have begun writing a proposal to the parks department that describes expanding access to Ardmore Park at very little cost to the environment and to taxpayers. Do you have any advice for me about this? I think I have a great idea that Bellevue should consider, but I am afraid I do not know the best way to communicate with the Parks Department.

  2. David - I can help you get your ideas to the right person (or people). Please e-mail me directly at with a brief summary of your idea and we can go from there. Thanks for tracking the blog. -Camron


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