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Making Nature Accessible in Urban Areas

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Jul 23, 2020 11:32 AM |

See how WTA is working with local neighborhoods and King County Parks to bring a new urban green space and trails to Seattle.

To enjoy the benefits of being in nature you must be able to reach it. And, as the challenges of the last few months have shown, having close access to green spaces is more important than ever for people’s mental and physical health. WTA’s Trail Next Door campaign is working to make this the reality by exploring the challenges of inequitable access to green spaces and working to solve them.

Looking at both demographic and park data from across the state, it’s abundantly clear that not every Washingtonian has equal access to green spaces. In many areas, higher-income neighborhoods scored better for access when compared to lower-income neighborhoods, and the same divide showed up when comparing the racial makeup of the area’s population. In fact, there are places across the state that lack even a single accessible green space for miles while others enjoy a multitude of parks and recreation opportunities.

Glendale Forest, courtesy King County Parks
A section of the North Highline Forest project during early scouting stages. Photo courtesy King County Parks.

This disparity in access and need for urban green spaces and trails has been all the more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who live near green spaces have been able to enjoy the outdoors while practicing safe social distancing, but for many, that simply isn’t an option without getting in a car and traveling further afield (assuming a car is even available). Given the immense physical and mental health benefits of time spent in nature, it’s clear that access to these spaces is needed more than ever before, especially as urban populations continue to grow.

And while we can’t predict the long-term impacts of the pandemic, we know that there will continue to be a widespread need for additional green space. That is why we launched our Trail Next Door campaign earlier this year, to ensure that nature is always within reach for all of us. Despite experiencing some slowdowns due to COVID-19, we’re hard at work with partners in solving the inequality we currently see in urban outdoor recreation.

Enter our largest pilot project to date for The Trail Next Door. Building on our long and successful partnership with King County, together we're bringing to life a new urban green space in unincorporated North Highline, between White Center and South Park. This project will allow WTA to be involved in urban green space work in a deeper way — from the very beginning of this project to the on-the-ground trail work.

This new urban forest will provide much-needed access to the outdoors in a community lacking developed outdoor recreation sites. But this work doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Any time you start working in a neighborhood, it’s important that you’ve listened to the hopes and needs of the people that live there. We’re committed to working directly with community members and local residents, as well as the three local schools and nearby places of worship, in order to support King County’s community engagement goals for developing this park.

Work on Glendale Forest, photo courtesy King County Parks
Early work being done in the North Highline Forest clearing invasive species and preparing for future trails. Photo courtesy King County Parks.

In early July, Jaime Loucky, WTA’s chief impact officer, joined King County Executive Dow Constantine for a tour of the future King County park. They saw crews doing work to removed debris and non-native species to make the forest safe, welcoming and healthy. They met neighbors, including a mother and her son, who are excited to have a park in their neighborhood. The nearest public green space right now is two miles away, across busy roads and a highway.  

As they reached the center of the small forest, Jaime showed Dow Constantine potential options for the new trail and a bridge that will cross the seasonal stream and wetlands.

“Staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has given each of us an even greater appreciation for open spaces, yet too many underserved communities do not have a park, trail, or green space,” said Executive Constantine. “The new forest park we are creating with community input will make it possible for more people and families in urban unincorporated King County to experience the benefits of green space in their own neighborhood. It reflects our progress toward making access to open space more just and equitable.”

The project in King County is just one example of many across the state where WTA will play a key role in improving access to the outdoors.

Photo courtesy King County Parks
WTA's Chief Impact Officer Jaime Loucky and King County Executive Dow Constantine look over plans for the North Highline Forest project during a field tour in early July. Photo courtesy King County Parks.

“Planning and developing an entirely new green space for an area previously without access is incredibly exciting for both our work and the community who will get to enjoy it,” Jaime said. “We’re excited to be moving forward with this important work and to learn and evolve our approach to The Trail Next Door over the coming year.”
But these projects aren’t possible without you. Each step, from planning to putting together trail work parties, requires your help. Consider supporting our Trail Next Door work this year by giving to WTA so that we can continue to move our work forward quickly in bringing accessible and safe trails to everyone in Washington.

Learn more about our Trail Next Door work and see how we’re working to bring trails and green spaces to urban areas that need them most.

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