Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City

In March, the University of Washington published Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City by local natural history writer David B. Williams, author of Too High and Too Steep: Resphaping Seattle’s Topography. Williams’ new book contains 17 walks, which weave together the history, natural history, and architecture of Seattle to paint a complex, nuanced, and fascinating story. The walks provide an appreciation of how the city has changed over time, how the past has influenced the present, and how nature is all around us—even in our urban landscape. Partial funding for the book was provided by 4Culture through an Art Projects grant.

We asked Williams if he could share some insights into his work on the book.

What inspired you to write a book of walks?

I have been walking in Seattle for most of my life and to me there is no better way to get to know the city than on foot. You move at just the right pace to notice details, to be able to pause and look carefully, and to interact with people and the landscape. I hoped that I could share my enthusiasm for Seattle and its history by providing a series of walks that highlighted the magic of this place.

Can anyone do the walks?

Yes, they range in distance from 1.1 to 7 miles and go primarily on sidewalks. Most are round trip, and several are downtown, where I did try to avoid the hills when I could. The one way walks are set up so that you can take bus back to the start. For most of these walks, I tested them on people of all ages, including my mom’s walking group, which has several people in their 80s. All of them completed the walks. One thing great about urban walking is that if the walk’s too long, you can generally find a nice coffeeshop, library, or bench to stop and rest, or do the walk over two days.

What surprised you most in your research?

That’s easy, I found an underground bunker on Pigeon Point, the ridge on the west side of the Duwamish River. It has an amazing history from its use during World War II to protect transmission equipment that connected Alaska to the lower 48 states to groundbreaking research in bone-marrow transplants, which led to a Nobel Prize.

Do you have a favorite walk?

I am quite partial to Who’s Watching You?, which explores the carved and terra cotta figures in downtown. The walk goes by eagles, lions’ heads, grotesques (carved human heads), a horse, and several mythical beasts. It was great fun to wander the streets looking for animals. I felt like I was on a safari. One note—I recommend a pair of binoculars to find figures high atop buildings.

David is leading two walks for free, based on walks in the book! As these walks have limited space, please sign up for only one of them, and each individual must sign up separately. After you register, David will contact you with information on where the walk begins and other details:

International District and Regrades
Saturday, May 13, 10:00 am —12:00 pm
Register
While Denny Hill may be the most famous regrade in Seattle’s history, it was neither the largest nor the deepest. Completed between 1907 and 1909, the Jackson Street Regrade altered the greatest number of surface acres in a single project.  On this 1.8 mile walk, we will travel the lesser known Jackson and Dearborn regrades, as well as explore the International District and recently renovated King Street Station.

The Protean Coastline
Saturday, May 13, 2:00—4:00 pm
Register
From its earliest days,  Seattle builders altered the natural landscape to best suit their needs.  Developers removed hills, filled tidal flats, and created a completely new downtown shoreline.  On this 1.5 mile walk,  we’ll explore the last vestiges of the former downtown bluffs, trace the island where Seattle was founded, and examine how the subterranean fill still affects the modern terrain. This is an easy walk, but does include one flight of 35 stairs.