Community in Action: Echo Lake Neighborhood group creates a community space and landscaped walking path and wins a national award

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

After: the complete Densmore Pathway
Photo by Steven H. Robinson
By Diane Hettrick

Sprinkled around Shoreline are streets that never happened. Called Right of Ways or ROWs, they are land which belongs to the City and are technically streets. The ROWs have not been developed and are minimally maintained. Some are very small pieces of land, and some were clearly meant to be streets. They are often used as cut-throughs by neighborhood kids.

Before: part of the N 188th Right of Way
Photo by Nora Smith
Neighbors with their backyards on one such ROW were painfully aware of the street that never happened. Technically it was N 188th, running an entire city block between Densmore and Ashworth in the Echo Lake Neighborhood.

When it was overgrown neighbors felt vulnerable because of the potential for crime. During the day, they walked their dogs on the narrow footpath, and tried to keep the litter picked up. Mostly, they were frustrated at the lost potential for what the ROW could be - a beautiful community garden - a neighborhood gathering place - a maintained pathway.

Before: the Right of Way was a dumping ground
Photo by Nora Smith
Suzanne Wynne and Ellen Wood often talked about it as they walked their dogs. Both experienced gardeners, they thought that a low-maintenance design with native plants would not be difficult to maintain, once it was established. But they knew that everyone on the street had to be involved.

One day they decided it was a project they wanted to take on. They went door to door, posted flyers, and talked to everyone on the path. They found a lot of enthusiasm and willingness to be involved.

They organized a community pot luck meeting, the first of several to come.

The "Densmore Pathway" project really gained energy when Suzanne talked to Roy Mangel, another dog walker, and found that not only was he a landscape designer with a landscape installation business, he was enthusiastic about the project and willing to be involved.

From there, Roy created a design, and community members gave their input for design changes.

Final design for the Densmore Pathway
By Roy Mangels

Suzanne went to the City and the Echo Lake Neighborhood Association board. Nora Smith, of the Office of Neighborhoods, suggested they seek mini-grant funds. The Echo Lake Neighborhood Association, ELNA, agreed to sponsor the project and sign off on the mini-grant application. Nora worked with Suzanne to submit the application and the City Council approved $4,848 for the project.

Some of the volunteers stop to pose for a photo
Photo by Nora Smith

Part of the mini-grant requirement is that the recipients agree to 200 hours of volunteer labor. Further, as it was a ROW, the Densmore volunteers, backed by ELNA, pledged to continue to maintain the project.

Neighbors agreed that the priority was a path that everyone could use  "Everyone wanted a path where seniors, commuters, school children, strollers, and wheel chairs could navigate the terrain without tripping or getting soaked from the overgrown vegetation."

A lot of dirt and gravel had to be moved around
Photo by Nora Smith
Beyond that, they wanted a community gathering place amid a beautiful landscape of low-maintenance native plants.

ELNA publicized the project and volunteers came from the surrounding neighborhood, including Native Plant Steward Donna Franklin, who donated a truckload of plants from her backyard garden.

Ellen and Pat Wood donated the water to get the new plants established.

Roy Mangels brought in landscaping equipment
Photo by Nora Smith

The project was not without set-backs. The City had the Ashworth Sidewalk project going on at the same time. A sub-contractor on the sidewalk project thought that the apparently unused open space would be a good place to store piles of gravel. After some discussions, the sub-contractor was allowed to leave the piles of gravel and when the sidewalk was completed, the contractors built the portion of the Pathway that they had been blocking.

A young neighbor stands by the old pathway
Photo by Nora Smith
Through the late fall and into mid-December there were major work parties and another pot luck. Many people came alone or in small groups to work on the pathway. Some learned to use Roy's landscaping equipment, others planted lilies and wild flowers.

In early spring, the work parties began again. And then the major work was done. 

The completed pathway
Photo by Nora Smith

Suzanne reports that "An estimated total of 362 volunteer hours were donated to manage, design and build the pathway. Thanks to Donna and Roy, a total of $1,330 of material and equipment were donated. Though we only spent $2,959 of our mini-grant funding, the city estimated that the project would have cost $30,000 if they had hired a contractor to perform the work. By working together we made a $30,000 improvement to our neighborhood."

Accepting the Earth Day Proclamation on behalf of ELNA
Larry Monger, Donna Franklin, Suzanne Wynne, Jeanne Monger

On April 16, 2012 the City Council's Earth Day Proclamation was presented to ELNA for the Densmore Pathway project. "Since the Pathway improves pedestrian access, creates habitat, and generally improves the environment, the city honored all the volunteers who worked on the project."

Nora Smith worked with Suzanne to enter ELNA and the Densmore Pathway Project into a national competition and it was selected as a finalist. On Thursday, May 24, 2012 Nora Smith made the formal presentation to the Neighborhoods USA group at their annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the category Physical Revitalization: Beautification – Single Neighborhood - the Echo Lake Neighborhood Association - Densmore Pathway project was awarded third place.


Christine Southwick,  May 30, 2012 at 8:28 AM  

Great documentation of project: good pictures; explanation of problem; steps to solution; and end result. Good for the neighborhood, and Shoreline as a whole. Thanks Echo Lake group.

And thanks for carrying the whole story.

Anonymous,  May 31, 2012 at 8:50 AM  

Thanks to all who worked on the Densmore Pathway Project. Thank you for making our neighborhood beautiful.

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