lake youngs trail

More from Brian Borrello, King County Parks and Recreation Division’s intrepid Artist in Residence…

As artist-in-residence, I am working either in the office or in the field with King County Parks staff. We discuss existing and long term issues related to the Regional Trails System in their planning, maintenance, and everyday operation. Or, we drive and walk different alignments in the metro area, observing and analyzing them. We also envision how they can evolve. On weekends, I often explore the regional trails on my bike.

Last week I rode the Lake Youngs Trail, a regional trail created as a path around the 9- mile perimeter of Lake Youngs, east of Kent, WA. Lake Youngs was developed near the turn of the century as a municipal water resource for the growing city, and was originally called Swan Lake. One can never actually view the lake itself from the trail, as it is far inland to prevent human access.

A protected reservoir, it is surrounded by barbed wire fencing, forbidding signage, and video surveillance cameras. The trail runs in long, straight north/south/east/west stretches, as it hugs the defining fence line. It is used mostly by hikers and people riding horses or bicycles, and from it one can connect rather easily to the nearby and lovely Soos Creek Trail.

The character of Lake Youngs Trail shifts from forest lane to roadside path, and from quiet and solitary passage to a lively extension of suburban backyard playspace. With the construction of each new housing tract, the nature of this area changes from rural to urban. The running fence is the constant.

The trail presented me with an impression of “defensible space,” and that phrase kept running through my mind as I rode the perimeter. The lake area is a zone designated as off limits to humans, but appears delightfully wild and verdant within the fencing. (It made me think of such “militarized” spaces, that by default “go wild,” and how the very mechanisms that keep people out, can keep the plants and animals happy within and safe from encroachment and destruction.) This bounded, ad hoc nature preserve would seem to be a positive byproduct of its existence as an otherwise restricted public utility.

Sanctuarium Münster, Skulptur Projekte 1997 © Herman De Vries

This brought to mind the work of Herman De Vries. His elegant  “Sanctuarium” sited in a sculpture park in Munster, Germany, is a completely enclosed circular brick structure, which defines a space where natural processes can proceed unfettered by human intervention, It is unadorned and impenetrable, save for 4 elliptical viewports which allow peering within. Inside, devoid of human contact, the space has gone feral…

Steigerwald, Traces 2006 © Herman De Vries

He also makes work that one could possibly encounter in a trail setting. His “Traces” are words, phrases, and symbols that he carves into boulders and applies gold leaf to the voids.

On all of the trails I encounter, I look for the “experience” offered and the “experience” that can be made possible. I am seeking opportunities and spaces where art and beauty might come to exist, and also how more ephemeral artistic actions and activities can be supported.

In this instance, the Lake Youngs Trail allows you to experience views to an untouchable, constructed “no-man’s land,” a rare little piece of the world where nature can thrive and other living things can grow and prosper. And such views are increasingly rare, into such places where we humans- fortuitously for other living things – are not allowed to enter.


Photos: Lake Youngs Trail, 2011 by Brian Borrello