One of the unique parts of Kirke Park, a "natural play" area which runs along the east side of the park, is a dry bed lined with rocks, trees and logs which will rot over time.
New Kirke Park place for community to gather
After four years of planning, designing and community input – as well as many more years of eyeing the property as a possible park location – Kirke Park had its grand opening last Saturday, Aug. 11, and is now open for public use.
The park, though fairly small in size, is able to fit an impressive amount of activities and uses without feeling too cluttered. On the south end is a playground for kids to enjoy, which includes large disc-like swings that several kids can fit on at once (at hit at the grand opening) and a rock climbing wall. In the middle of the park is the “living room” area, a place where people can sit at benches or lay on the grass and gather for conversation, picnics or relaxation. On the north side is a P-Patch garden with fresh beds of soil, fruit trees and berry bushes. Apples, plums, figs, blueberries, strawberries, gooseberries and many, many more edible foods all will start popping up around the park in the future. Some, such as the apples, have already started.
Along the east side of the park is a dry bed lined with rocks, logs and trees. In addition to acting like a natural drain during the winter, the area is also available for kids to play in. “Nature play” is a big word in urban parks, said Landscape Architect Clayton Beaudoiu, who helped design the park. “We’re having a hard time introducing kids to natural elements that evolve over time.”
In a suburban neighborhood with few natural elements outside of well-maintained and manicured trees, the area also provides a rare peek into a truly natural environment, where things, such as logs which will rot over time, are allowed to decay.
“Seattle parks should be commended for their willingness to put things that are impermanent (into a park,” Beaudoiu said.
It was a challenge, he said, to create a park that the whole community could use.
“(The goal was to) create a multi-functional space that works for all people of all interests and generations.”
Alyssa Smith, a nearby resident who has been heavily involved in the process of creating the park, said that it was vital for the open space to be a gathering spot for the community. The neighborhood, like many areas in Ballard, has been starving for an open space such as Kirke Park for a long time.
“Honestly, there really isn’t another spot in the area (to meet that need),” Smith said.
Online, the Department of Parks and Recreation has a gap analysis map gauging how much park space different areas in Seattle has (http://www.seattle.gov/parks/levy/gap_analysis_map.pdf). The more parks in an area, the greener it is; the fewer parks, the less green it is. In the area where Kirke Park now resides, the map had a stark white circle.
Early on, park proponents, including Groundswell NW, had identified the former church property as a good spot for an open space. But it wasn’t until 2007 that the idea started to become a reality, when a realtor was quietly marketing the space. In 2008, the property was formally bought and the planning began.
The property the park is on was originally owned by the Seventh Elect Church, a reclusive religious sect whose members effectively created a wall around the property using towering holly and laurel hedges. The sect practiced absolute celibacy (and vegetarianism), and by the 1990s only a few elderly people were left, meaning that the religion -- and the tenants of the 9th Ave NW and NW 70th St property -- quite literally died off. The history of the religion is long, controversial and full of fuzzy details. To read more about the history, visit Groundswell NW’s web page at http://www.groundswellnw.org/kirke-park/124-whats-the-story-behind-balla....
Whatever the history, and if the heavily attended grand opening is any indication, Smith believes that Kirke Park is already a hit in the neighborhood and that it will see a lot of use in the future.