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Wanderings

Interlaken Park: Stumble into the woods

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Wanderings -- column illustration

There’s a significant amount of anxiety in the air this week. Wherever you are living in this hyper-politicized, socially distanced world of ours, I implore you to seize every moment of serenity you can this week.

If you’re here in Seattle, this week’s wandering will encourage you to simply stumble into the woods of Interlaken Park if sadness or despair creeps into your psyche. On the other hand, this same forest in the city center is also a safe, beautiful place to celebrate and rest in moments of joy as they come.

There are few places I am more grateful for in this city than Interlaken Park, and there are even fewer places better hidden.

The Seattle Parks and Recreation website tells how, “in the 1890's, Interlaken Boulevard was the principal bike and buggy path linking Capitol Hill with the boulevards on Lake Washington.” Today, Interlaken Boulevard, which intersects the park, is no longer a main thoroughfare; in fact, it’s rather off the beaten path. But there remains an ease with which one can travel through the park along the boulevard, whatever form of travel that may be.

Visitors to the park will notice dog walkers, hikers, runners, cyclists, and drivers alike winding the wide but unmarked roadway. From an urban planning perspective, this sounds chaotic, and the initial impression is that of an infrastructural free-for-all. After spending time there, however, the boulevard reflects the coexistence of these forms of movement, as they interact with the shelter and repose the forest embodies.

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Interlaken Park is a popular location for afternoon walks in the Fall. Many walkers were equipped with face masks and were socially distanced from passersby.

Indeed, there’s nothing short or quick about the park’s interwoven trail and boulevard system. Though it’s centrally located and easy to access from multiple points, the park (and its towering canopy of trees) invites you to escape both time and space. The pace, whether you choose to run or drive through the park, is suggestive of being deep in a forest far from the responsibilities of tomorrow.

The greenway was designed and commissioned by the Olmsted Brothers, whose portfolio includes New York’s Central Park and the United States Capitol grounds, among countless other great parks.

The space which Interlaken Park occupies was described by that firm as “one of the most desirable branch parkways that would connect Washington Park (the Arboretum) with Volunteer Park,” the latter of which will be the topic of the next column. Though the park is an escape, it is also closely knit within the city’s history, dating back in its current form to 1903.

The sort of intention that went into the planning of this park, and how it connects to others nearby, contrasts — but doesn’t clash — with the inevitably overgrown nature of the park itself, the characteristic I find most endearing. Ferns and vines of ivy lace the creek bed and encroach on the trails, which are often wet and rugged themselves.

201027_HM_Interlaken_7

Interlaken Drive East is at the heart of the park, winding through the forest for several miles. The charm of this area draws bicyclists, joggers, and walkers alike.

The canopy of trees towers over the roadway, entirely blocking the sky in places, but there is always enough space to share with whoever else might also be in the park.

There is an intense serenity and solidarity in this open but hidden space, and I find myself revisiting it more often than ever before this year. 

Walk, run, or drive into these woods, and enjoy what beauty there is to be found along the way.

Reach writer Austin Van Der Veen at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @avanderbean

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(1) comment

BobbyZ

The statement that "The Olmsted Brothers(') ... portfolio includes New York’s Central Park" is a fake fact, at least according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Law_Olmsted, which claims that their father designed Central Park.

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