Archive for May, 2015

Seacrest Park

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

In March when a Seattle Port Commissioner joked about a “flotilla of kayaks” poised to oppose plans for oil exploration in the Arctic, he may have made inevitable the protests launched recently from the West Seattle shoreline.

Some of us had greeted the Polar Pioneer on its arrival, but for many paddlers today was the first opportunity to get close to the giant rig.  A well-organized protest launched from Jack Block and from Seacrest Park, a bit further up the coast.  Here’s a picture of some of the early entrants at Seacrest. (Our objective can be seen on the skyline beyond the water taxi dock.)


Jack Block was the center of land-based demonstrations and a close-by launch site for some beginners.  There were lots of boats at Seacrest, including rentals from the local Alki Kayak Tours and other operators; loaners carefully matched with borrowers; paddlers who hailed from at least as far as Oregon; and services like valet unloading organized by Greenpeace and other organizations. Here’s a picture of some of the kayaks parked at Seacrest:Boats on the grass at Seacrest awaiting launch time.

The two groups met north of Terminal 5 to unfurl some banners and chant some slogans before proceeding into the West Waterway for a better look.  The object of our attention can be seen in the right third of this picture:paddles

The Polar Pioneer

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Yesterday the Polar Pioneer, the massive drill rig that Shell plans to use to explore for oil in the Arctic, arrived in Elliott Bay, and we were there to meet it.A dozen kayativists await the Polar Pioneer off Duwamish Head in Seatle.The reception wasn’t entirely cordial, for many question the necessity, or the safety, of Arctic drilling, and the legitimacy of the operation at Terminal 5 in the heart of Seattle’s waterfront.

As the vessel proceeded south we were joined by a number of other paddlers, including a big traditional canoe with representatives of both the Duwamish and the Lummi tribes, the latter fighting their own battle against construction of a coal port they see as threatening the health of the Salish Sea.DragonboatThis was a gathering of rapid responders — a bigger flotilla is expected May 16, and protests on land after that.

Jack Block Park

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Though my trip along the Duwamish River ended in the tidal zone, our “sea” kayak still hadn’t seen a lot of salt water. Back when we were shopping for our first boats we had paddled the western shore of Elliott Bay, but only as far south as what is now Jack Block Park.  The distance from there to Terminal 105 represented a gap in our explorations that would be temptingly easy to fill.

So a week or two later, on May Day, I set out for West Seattle.  Though it’s fifteen acres in size, Jack Block Park is scarcely noticeable from Harbor Avenue, because of the way that it is nestled within the Port’s Terminal 5 — there’s just a driveway that crosses the bike path and some railroad tracks and then turns out of sight.  After some distance there’s a long-term parking lot near clean, modern facilities.  It’s another drive, or walk along well-maintained paths, to the beach and similar facilities, opened to the public in 2011.  The area had been a wood-treating plant and then a Superfund site, its hazardous sediment now capped with nice-sized pebbles.

Since I was planning to begin and end in the same spot, I tried out the idea of handling the boat entirely by myself.  Having to move the car after freeing up the boat is a nuisance, and my choice of low tide didn’t make the carry any shorter, but there were no real problems.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had also chosen a day with a north wind, which got started earlier than expected.  Inside the West Waterway though the chop diminished and I paddled along happily amid the tugboat traffic there.  One barge, nudged along by a couple of tugs, bore shipping containers, a crane and some other equipment, and, at the top of the stack, another boat that might have looked fairly good-sized anywhere else.

I paddled beyond T-105 and then turned east past the south end of Harbor Island, once only a spot in the mouth of the Duwamish for trading ships to dump their ballast but now the heart of the City’s working waterfront. There’s a marina at the south end.  The bike route runs very close to here and in fact I paddled right out underneath the fishing pier where we often stop, into the East Waterway.


Visible from here are a number of landmarks familiar to Seattle tourists, but probably in an unexpected order.

I moved respectfully aside for the boat coming straight toward us, the Olympic tug Lela Joy, and then watched her tie up to the left of the picture and behind.  After a bit I turned around and retraced my journey, getting, for the day, four really good looks at the underside of the West Seattle Bridge.

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There’s another reason for interest in Jack Block Park.  It’s in the eye of the storm of protest over oil exploration in the Arctic.  Shell Oil plans to base its drilling rigs at Terminal 5 during the winter season.  The arrangement with the Port of Seattle drew fire from environmental groups and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has suggested that permit conditions may not have been met.  Citizen protests, including a kayak flotilla, are expected.  The Stranger describes the situation in this article.

Two Faces of the Duwamish River

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

The winter in Seattle was good for paddling and by Spring I had already explored much of the area that could be reached from South Lake Union without portage, including some of the western shore of Lake Washington, north and south from Montlake.

So one Tuesday in April we loaded the Ikkuma on the car from its berth on Lake Union for the very first time and Alex dropped me off at a spot in South Park called simply Duwamish Waterway, promising to pick me up later if I rang.

I wanted to see if I could get a ways upstream first.  An earlier start would have made this part of the trip quicker:  high water in Elliott Bay slows the river’s current.  Nonetheless, a couple of hours later I found myself four miles south at Codiga Park on the eastern shore, which I figured would make a good place to stop and have lunch.The beach at the foot of Codiga Park viewed from upstream.This view downstream was taken during a bicycle trip a few days later, from one of the three wooden shelters standing on the other side of the river.  The land is a former dairy farm that escaped development and has been enhanced as wildlife habitat.  It’s a fitting place for sea creatures, since a side channel has been excavated to make a safe place for juvenile salmon.  More visible to human visitors are the ospreys that have claimed the nesting platforms provided high above, the occasional great blue heron, and the crows that meet on the beach every day to discuss current events.

Above this point, past a golf course and a couple of casinos, at Fort Dent, now a Tukwila city park devoted largely to soccer, the river loses its name to the longer Green River and enters a complex and fascinating hydrological history. The fort was at the confluence with the Black River, which was the outlet of Lake Washington before the lake level was lowered by the Montlake Cut.  The Cedar River, which had emptied into the Black, now flows directly into the lake.  In the nineteenth century, this stretch of the Green would have been called the White River; but following a major flood in 1906 the White no longer joins the Green, finding its way instead to the Puyallup, which flows to Commencement Bay in Tacoma.  The original inhabitants may have considered the Cedar-Black-Duwamish to be the one river into which the others flowed.

I may try someday to make my way further upstream, and Codiga Park would be a fine starting place, boasting a good parking lot and dependable sanitation. The Green River Trail, at least, is navigable all the way to Kent, with bus and even railroad stops along the way, and we have seen much of the river from our bicycles.

It was on the way back downstream that I had many of my wildlife encounters, including a Bald Eagle who swooped down to the riverbank and then back up to his perch as I passed, and my first Canada Goslings this year.  In the morning I had not been surprised to see three little bunnies amid the brambles near the water.  We glimpse them on the upland side, mostly near the big USPS facility, descendants doubtless of pet-store stock liberated at King County’s Cecil Moses Park.

Neither the bunnies nor the brambles are native.  The Himalayan blackberries that carpet much of this area, though now virtually iconic, are considered invasive as well, and the work of conservation groups largely involves grubbing them out and replacing them with indigenous plant species.  The luscious fat berries in August and September will be missed, but I agree that there’s no point in having a patch of these more than a dozen feet wide anywhere.  You’re not going to get the berries in the middle no matter how much you want them.

Cecil Moses Park is a popular stop on the trail for its plumbing and I paused there on both legs of my journey, landing the second time on the east bank at the end of the footbridge.  Paddlers are not expected here though and mud may render both options undesirable.

The trip downstream was quicker despite a little headwind.  I floated by my launch site and then another three miles or so, down to Terminal 105, a  nicely landscaped park provided by the Port of Seattle with a little overlook and a hand-carry launch site.  Along the way the river began to look more urban overall, though official landing spots become if anything more frequent.View of the Duwamish downstream from South ParkHere’s a view of the new South Park Bridge.  The old one was deemed unsafe several years ago and for a while the neighborhood was hard to get to by car, but the bridge was eventually replaced.  Within its arch we see the First Avenue Bridge too, carrying State Route 99, just closing.  Both spans would open for the fishing boat Ocean Storm,  whose crew waved as we passed.

One other site on the western shore is worthy of mention.  Where Terminal 107 should be, there is a park instead, saved when construction revealed important human artifacts.  There are trees, grass, nice beaches and, across the street, the Longhouse and Cultural Center of the Duwamish Tribe,  from whose great leader Sealth the city of Seattle gets its name.  Not to mention a lot of its real estate.