Seattle Parks and Recreation

Seattle Parks and Recreation

Seattle Parks and Recreation (also known as the [Seattle] Department of Parks and Recreation or DPR) is the department of government of the city of Seattle, Washington, responsible for maintaining the city's parks, open space, and community centers.

The total area of the properties maintained by the department is over 6,200 acres (25 km2), which makes up approximately 11% of the total area of Seattle.[1] Of those 6,200 acres (25 km2), 4,600 acres (19 km2) are developed.[2]

As of 2007, the department managed 450 parks, 485 buildings, and 22 miles (35 km) of boulevards. Facilities include 185 athletic fields, 122 children's playgrounds, four golf courses, 151 outdoor tennis courts and an indoor tennis center, 26 community centers, two outdoor and eight indoor swimming pools, as well as viewpoints, fishing piers, boat ramps, the Volunteer Park conservatory,[1] the Washington Park Arboretum, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Woodland Park Zoo.[2]

The department's 2007 operating budget was US$117 million. Its largest park is Discovery Park in Magnolia,[2] and its oldest park Denny Park in South Lake Union.[2][3]

Seattle Parks and Recreation is run by a superintendent[4] and advised by a volunteer Board of Park Commissioners.[5]



Early Seattle parks

The Seattle Board of Park Commissioners was established in 1887[6] to oversee the city's first park, known at that time as Seattle Park. Originally the Seattle Cemetery, the site was donated in 1884 by Seattle pioneer David Denny; today it is Denny Park. In 1892 the position of Park Supervisor was created, with E.O. Schwagerl being the first to hold the office. There was no budget at the time to purchase parks, but Schwagerl envisioned parks extending north along the Lake Washington shore from the Bailey Peninsula (today's Seward Park) to Madison Park with a boulevard along roughly the northern third of this, from Leschi to Madison Park.[3]

It was no coincidence that Schwagerl would single out Leschi and Madison Parks. Both of these stood on the lakeshore at the end of trolley lines and were already privately developed as parks of a sort by the promoters of those lines. Leschi had a hotel, cottages, and footpaths leading through virgin forest, and John Cort built a six-story casino there in 1892, which was also an early, prominent vaudeville venue. John J. McGilvra's Madison Park had cottages and tent platforms, but also an amusement park, George K. Beede's 500-seat Madison Park Pavilion, a baseball park (eventually used by an early incarnation of the Northwest League), excursion boats touring the lake, and eventually a track for horse racing. Beede's and Cort's facilities both began by offering family entertainment, but eventually became beer halls. Madison Park was refurbished for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P Exposition) as White City Park; Leschi Park, which had become less profitable, was purchased outright by the city at that time. Madison Park also eventually became less profitable (especially after Washington State adopted prohibition of alcohol in 1916) and was also sold to the city parks system. Madrona Park on Lake Washington and Alki Beach, originally reachable from downtown Seattle only by water, have a similar history.[7]

The rise of a parks system

Long before the city took over the commercial parks, in the 1890s, possibly inspired by Schwagerl's ideas, George F. Cotterill, assistant city engineer and chairman of the Paths Committee of the Queen City Good Roads Club, organized volunteers to build 25 miles (40 km) of bicycle paths, mainly along the lake.[8] In 1903, the park commissioners hired the Olmsted Brothers to design a comprehensive plan for the city's parks. They uses Cotterill's bicycle paths as the basis of a city-wide plan for a system of boulevards and parks.[9] The Olmsted plan had both populist and elitist elements. On the one hand, it intended to place a park or playground within half a mile (800 m) of every home in the city. On the other hand, their boulevards connected wealthy residential neighborhoods and bypassed the tawdrier popular amusement areas. For example, Lake Washington Boulevard bypassed the Leschi waterfront, leaving the lake shore and passing through the uplands. The Olmsted plan became a de facto plan for the city's development.[10]

By 1917, nearly all of today's major Seattle parks already existed. Woodland and Washington Parks were purchased in 1900. From 1903, Woodland Park on Phinney Ridge was home to a zoo that had previously been privately operated at Leschi.[11] Most of Washington Park would become, in 1941, an arboretum.[12]

In 1904 the city charter was revised by initiative. The new charter enhanced the power of the Park Board, brought it out from under control of the Seattle City Council, gave it control not only over parks but over playgrounds, parkways, and boulevards, and granted it a tax base of its own. In addition, over the next eight years, voters approved $4 million in bond issues for the purchase of parklands.[13] Seward Park (Bailey Peninsula) and Ravenna Park north of the University District were obtained before the 1909 A-Y-P Exposition using the right of eminent domain.[14] Further lakeshore lands were obtained from the state in 1913 with assistance from Hiram Chittenden of the Port of Seattle. The resulting construction and landscaping projects made the Park Board a significant employer, especially during times when the economy slackened.[14]

Continued development of the system

In February 1968, as part of the Forward Thrust program, Seattle passed a $118 million dollar bond issue in support of the Department of Parks and Recreation. At the time, it was the largest parks and recreation bond issue ever passed in the United States.[15]


  1. ^ a b Parks and Recreation: 2007-2012 Adopted Capital Improvement Program, City of Seattle. p. 2 of PDF, numbered as p. 23. Accessed online 11 February 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d Quick Facts, Seattle Parks and Recreation. Accessed online 11 February 2008.
  3. ^ a b Berner 1991, p. 100–101
  4. ^ Kathy Mulady, Nickels names park chief who's on a 2,600-mile (4,200 km) hike, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 10, 2007. Accessed online 11 February 2008.
  5. ^ Board of Park Commissioners, Seattle Parks and Recreation. Accessed online 11 February 2008.
  6. ^ Park History, Seattle Parks and Recreation. Accessed online 11 February 2008.
  7. ^ Berner 1991, p. 101–103, 105
  8. ^ Berner 1991, p. 101
  9. ^ Berner 1991, p. 101, 104
  10. ^ Berner 1991, p. 101, 104–105
  11. ^ Berner 1991, p. 100
  12. ^ David B. Williams, Olmsted Parks in Seattle -- A Snapshot History, HistoryLink, May 10, 1999. Accessed 9 February 2008.
  13. ^ Berner 1991, p. 101, 105
  14. ^ a b Berner 1991, p. 106
  15. ^ Jones, Nard (1972), Seattle, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, p. 228, ISBN 0385018754 


  • Official site
  • Berner, Richard C. (1991), Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration, Seattle: Charles Press, ISBN 0962988901 .

External links

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