History of Discovery Park

Suitable for an Elevator Ride

One History of Discovery Park Suitable for an Elevator Ride

I had an opportunity lately to explain to someone the history of Discovery Park. Having been on the Discovery Park Advisory Council for 15 years and involved in habitat restoration there for twenty years, I thought about all the things I have seen over the years but realized that this person and anyone else who does not have time for a long, disjointed speech from me, might appreciate a short history of how the place we now call Discovery Park came to be and what it means to the future of our region.

The result was my “elevator speech” about Discovery Park.  You can find much more detailed narratives online, including on the Friends of Discovery Park web site, but this is my take on it for a busy person who might want to help Discovery Park because they run there every day or want to preserve the peaceful open character of it, but who may have very little awareness of its history and the reason it has been defended so diligently for the last 45 years.

Tom’s Discovery Park Elevator Speech

The land comprising Discovery Park has been traversing an ever changing path for 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age and will continue to become what society chooses for it in generations to come. In the beginning its name was Nature.

An old growth forest arose and glacial moraines and bluffs began collapsing to form the beaches and marshes which, starting at least 3000 years ago, indigenous peoples visited for the plant and animal bounty found there. One of its many names then, to the Duwamish was Pka-dzEltcu (thrust far out).

To Navy explorers in 1841, it was West Point.

Settlement in 1851 brought eventual logging and farming until the land was developed in 1898 to join a string of forts protecting Puget Sound. It then gained another name – Fort Lawton.

A short building boom gave us the now-remaining familiar historic buildings by 1910. A quiet interlude gave way to another war-mandated expansion to hold troops and their affairs in over 500 buildings. Many were demolished in the 1940s and what remained stayed in use by the Army and Navy until the Government was ready to give up most of the fort to civic partners in Seattle for a Park but that process took years of work by many visionary partners, people and organizations in order to make a large open-space park a reality in 1973. The next name it had was Discovery Park.

Much still needed to be accomplished  to undo the massive footprint of concrete, asphalt and buildings to start restoring  the land to a semblance of its former glory and that work has been guided from the beginning by a visionary Master Plan which established that Discovery Park would become (and remain) a place of quiet and tranquility and a haven for native plants and animals.

Many more buildings were torn down and a Historic District was established to preserve the silent sentinels of the early Fort Lawton. Hundreds of plant restoration projects large and small were accomplished by volunteers, the City and organizations in the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s and many more remain in order to keep the Park evolving, not to what it was before 1851, but to a “third place” that is sustainable in the current climate and society.

We expect the Master Plan to keep us on that path and to be the inspiration for the highly-developed metropolis that now surrounds Discovery Park to value it for the qualities so eloquently laid out in the Plan.

We celebrate the 45th Anniversary of Discovery Park in 2018, its Master Plan and all the people and organizations whose hard work created the Park and Plan and who will defend it in perpetuity. We hope its final name will always be Discovery Park.

Tom Palm, Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward, Discovery Park 

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