Passive Use – a Thin Green Line

In Seattle, nature-advocates are awakening to the fact that our treasured natural areas are not as protected as we thought they were. Turns out, the brilliant Green of the Emerald City is fading, at least in the eyes of many.

Here is a post I wrote for The Seattle Nature Alliance on the subject. It was posted the day after Seattle voted to approve a controversial funding method for our parks.

An ancient Bigleaf Maple.

An ancient Bigleaf Maple in Discovery Park.

 

Passive-Use, a Thin Green Line

Now that we’ve marched down the aisle and pledged our eternal and undying love for Seattle parks, one question remains. Will we love our parks to death?

Seattle is changing fast. Our population is exploding, neighborhoods are densifying, traffic is just plain nuts. We’ve come up in the world, which is wonderful. But, city life takes its toll and we’ll need greenspaces to keep us healthy and happy. We’ll also need careful planning so we don’t ruin the very nature we value so highly. Seattle only has 15% of park land that remains natural—one of the lowest percentages among American cities. The other 85% has been developed for active sports or landscaped.

The Seattle Nature Alliance is deeply concerned that Parks is managing natural areas to satisfy recreational desires rather than for ecological health and for our deep, human need to connect with nature. The Natural Resources Division—not the Recreation Division—should manage natural areas using urban ecology standards, not shifting recreational trends. The use should fit the resource, not the other way around.

Traditionally, Seattle park natural areas have been managed for wildlife habitat, passive recreation and natural beauty.Passive recreation means reserved for the general population: the non-motorized, non-mechanized, unhelmeted majority. Passive use is the central idea behind our national Wilderness system—conceived to protect nature for wildlife and the nature-experience for all people. Today, passive use is a thin green line between the remnant wild and the effects of development, over-use and ecological degradation. Without it, paradise would have been paved—or trampled—long ago.

The Parks Department is moving toward multi-use: slicing up natural areas like a pie and serving pieces to specialized user-groups. It’s been happening quietly—not as part of a   stated policy change, but rather through specific project proposals. Two years ago West Seattle was stunned to learn a commercial canopy zipline was planned for Lincoln Park’s mature forest. Recently, many Beacon Hill residents were upset to learn Cheasty Greenspace—one of Seattle’s last undeveloped natural areas— is proposed for a mountain bike skills course, with concept maps showing jumps, drops, and free-ride zones throughout the maturing forest. Now, there are vigorous protests and deep community divides.

Multi-use threatens to turn natural areas into community battlegrounds, with everyone scrambling for their own slice of the pie. Specialized user-groups are often supported by well-organized, well-funded, nationwide groups or even corporate sponsors with financial stakes in the specialized-use itself, giving user-groups an outscaled voice. The general population is left unrepresented, an easy target written off as NIMBY, grumpy neighbor, anti-bike, anti-sports, or anti-fun.

And, trying to accommodate multiple user-groups into a greenspace can easily exceed the limits of what nature can handle.

But, when park natural areas are reserved for the general population, every person has equal access. It is the fairest, most democratic way to manage our most precious remnant wild. It ensures nature remains accessible for all people while protecting wildlife habitat from over-use and ecological degradation.

Nature is not merely a setting to recreate in. Natural areas are living systems, and all people deserve an opportunity to explore and find wonder there. By spending quality time in nature and getting to know our fellow living creatures, we find our own place in the world. This is essential to human health and well-being.

Perhaps it’s time to split the Parks Department in two, as proposed for Bellevue parks by their former director Lee Springgate. We’d have a Seattle Department of Recreation Parks, and a Seattle Department of Natural Parks.

 

Seattle Nature Alliance enthusiastically supports that idea. It’s time.

Be our Ally! Drop by our Facebook Page and give us a “like”

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Sources and References:

Seattle Parks and Recreation data, as supplied to the Trust for Public Land, City Park Facts, 2014

Cheasty Mountain Bike Project Concept Plan

Lee Springgate Open Letter

Best Practices for Natural Areas, Seattle Parks and Recreation

 

 

 

 

 

Wet Labs at Magnuson Park

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A few months ago, my clients at the U.S.G.S. contacted me for some interpretive signs at Magnuson Park.

The topic was: Wet Labs.

 

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No, not those kind. (Although, with Seattle’s first Dog Swimming Beach, Magnuson Park has plenty of those, too).

The U.S.G.S. runs the Western Fisheries Research Center with state-of-the-art Wet Labs to study fish. The facility is located adjacent to the park, but part of their equipment is inside the park, so they wanted me to create 2 new signs to help visitors understand a bit about their work.

The Center originated more than 70 years ago through the efforts of Dr. Frederick Fish, a visionary scientist who pioneered improved methods of studying Pacific Salmon.

(With a name like that, I hope he had a good sense of humor.)

Here are the signs I wrote, designed and illustrated. They will be installed soon.

DDahnMagnuson1

This sign will be installed near a new pump station. The USGS figured park visitors would see the pump and wonder what it was, so they took the opportunity to educate them a little about their work at the Center. Seattle’s Magnuson Park was a pre-World War II era Naval Airfield and is now a huge complex of sports fields, tennis courts, trails, beaches, wetlands, and a Dog Swimming Beach.

 

DDahnMagnuson2

This sign will be installed near a reconstructed wetland complex which provides rich wildlife habitat. Cleaned and recycled water from the lab helps keep it wet year-round.

 

If you visit Magnuson Park, watch out for the wet labs! Both kinds.

 

The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff Story

The name “Wyckoff” is familiar to many Seattleites. The family has a long history of entrepreneurialism and philanthropy in the Northwest, particularly in the arts and the environment.

The family name is also famous nationwide for its interesting history, being traceable to the early roots of America, to the very moment one young man, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, stepped onto the muddy shores of New Amsterdam in 1637.

Pieter was my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. (see family tree photos at the end of the post)

Here is a bit of Pieter’s story. (Excerpted from an earlier post.)

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Voyage to the New World on the Ship Rensselaerswyck

In 1636, when Pieter was a young teenager, he left Texxel (near Amsterdam) on the Dutch Ship Rensselaerswyck. There were 38 passengers on board, many of whom were signed as indentured laborers or contract farmers to a wealthy Dutch diamond merchant named Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. They were on their way to Fort Orange (Albany, New York) and the settlement—also called Rensselaerswyck.

The entire trip took over six months.

It was a difficult trip, even by the standards of the day. For the first seven weeks, the captain’s log tells of one bad day after another.

Crossing the Atlantic in the 17th century was a dangerous ordeal.

 

Arrival at New Amsterdam (now New York City)

After months at sea, finally reaching New York Harbor must have seemed like sailing into heaven for the passengers of the Ship Rensselaerswyck. It was March 4th, 1637—more than sixth months after the ship had left the Netherlands.

I sketched this watercolor showing how New Amsterdam (New York) might have looked in 1637. At that time, New Amsterdam was still years from becoming the neatly laid out Dutch village shown in historical illustrations (most of them depicting the view twenty years later). The ship in the foreground is the Rensselaerswyck (I could not find definite reference for the ship itself, but there’s a good chance it was a Dutch fluyt). Click on the picture to get a larger view.

 

Fort Amsterdam and a windmill stood on a small hill surrounded by a scattering of rough buildings. There was no proper pier—people arriving by ship would have been rowed to the shallows to splash up the muddy shore on foot. It was a primitive settlement, and the few hundred inhabitants surely had no idea of the growth spurt their little town would undergo in the next few decades—let alone that this lonely outpost would one day be the financial center of the entire world.

The same view today:

An AppleMap view of the original site of New Amsterdam – today Wall Street in lower Manhattan. The Fort was located behind Battery Park.

 

 

Up the Hudson River to Fort Orange

After a spending a few weeks in New Amsterdam, the Ship Rensselaerswyck sailed up the Hudson River on the last 150 miles of its journey. On April 7, 1637, they reached Fort Orange—a tiny fortified settlement that had been hacked out of the towering pines a decade or so earlier. It was the last outpost of Dutch civilization.

To young Pieter and his fellow passengers, it must have seemed farther away than the moon.

A rough watercolor sketch I did from imagination, showing the view from the banks of the Hudson River looking south toward Fort Orange (present day Albany). The entire fort was enclosed by a wooden palisade. Outside the fort, there was a scattering of dwellings on the river bank.

 

This is the view from roughly the same spot today.

 

Behind the fort, millions of square miles of wilderness sprawled across the continent, inhabited by the Native Americans that had lived there for thousands of years, and hordes of wild animals, birds and fish and other creatures. The location of the fort along the river was key—the waterways were the main travel routes for both wildlife and the people that hunted them. The Europeans were astonished at the abundance of fish and game in New Netherlands.

Elk, bear, mountain lions and wolves were abundant in the area. The only game animal with a larger population today is the whitetail deer.

 

In 1637, the Europeans had no concept of how big North America was—there was even still some debate as to whether the earth was flat or round1. In his 1655 book, Adriaen van der Donck wrote that “several of our people have penetrated far into the country to at least seventy or eighty miles from the coastline.

Judging from the climate and the huge numbers of wildlife and migrating waterfowl, van der Donck concluded that the “land stretches for hundreds of miles into the interior…”

He would have been surprised to know it stretches for several thousand miles!

The main business at Fort Orange was beaver. The Mohawk tribe hunted the animals throughout the highlands and brought down thousands of pelts to be traded for European axes, kettles, glassware, knives, and before long, guns and alcohol.

Eventually, beavers were hunted to the brink of extirpation.

This painting from 1662 shows wealthy Dutch businessmen wearing beaver felt hats. Rembrandt van Rijn, courtesy of the Rijkes Museum.

 

 Pieter Claesen Wyckoff starts his life as a laborer

The 38 passengers of the Ship Rensselaerswyck were either farmers or laborers on a tract granted to Kiliaen van Rensselaer, a wealthy diamond merchant residing in Amsterdam. The estate, also known as Rensselaerswyck, stretched for about nine miles along both sides of the river from the Fort and inland a distance described as “two days’ journey.”

Simon Walischen was a Master Farmer and a lease-holder with van Rensselaer. He was favored by being given his choice of the laborers on the boat, and he chose Pieter. As master, Simon would have total control over Pieter’s life for the next six years. In addition to Pieter, there may have been other laborers assigned to Simon.

A watercolor sketch I did imagining Pieter facing his new master.

 

After arriving at the Fort, they would have left by rowboat or small sailboat to Simon’s assigned land, a large tract of previously cleared land on what is now Papscanee Island in Albany.

I did this watercolor sketch imagining the type of house they would have lived in. These types of primitive dwellings had no chimney—the smoke simply rose out from gaps in the thatch.

 

At least initially, they probably lived in a crude pithouse with a roof of planks or logs. Eventually they might have built a log and thatch hut, or even a small plank house.

Pieter stayed with Simon until the age of eighteen, then he collected his wages (a total of 375 guilders for 6 years) and left to rent his own farm on the Rensselaerswyck estate. He married Grietje Van Ness, the daughter of a prominent family, and later the two moved— possibly to a location near New Amsterdam or elsewhere on lower Manhattan Island.

At that time, New Amsterdam was a growing trading and port settlement, controlled by the Dutch. The map below shows New Amsterdam a few decades later, in 1660.

The Castello Plan, a map from 1660 that shows a detailed depiction of New Amsterdam. Today, this is lower Manhattan, the financial and government center of New York City. You can see the layout of Fort Amsterdam, built in 1625 by the Dutch on the upper left side of the town. On the right side of town is the wall, officially built to protect against attack by the Indians, or “wilden” as they were called. Wall Street takes its name from this wall. Image from Creative Commons.

 

 

In 1652, Pieter signed a contract to “superintend the Bowery and cattle of Pieter Stuyvesant in New Amersfoort” (Flatbush, Brooklyn)—which was a West India Company- owned tract— and Pieter and Grietje moved to what is now known as the Wyckoff Homestead and Farm, the oldest structure in New York City and a National Historic Landmark.

In the mid 1600s Brooklyn and the rest of Long Island was still mostly wild country. There was a small settlement called New Amersfoort—centered a couple of miles to the southwest—that had been started about 20 years earlier as a farming community. At the time Pieter, Grietje and their 3 children moved in (they ended up with 11 kids eventually!) there were about 15 settlers living in New Amersfoort.

I imagine Pieter’s farm might have looked something like this:

I did this watercolor sketch imagining what Pieter’s farm might have looked like in the 1650s. At that time the house (now the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum) would have been a small, simple thatched hut. There may also have been a barn or hay barracks, a pigsty and other outbuldings. At first, they probably grew mostly grain.

 

Pieter became one of the most prosperous and influential citizens, buying land, serving as magistrate, and helping establish the Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church (now the juncture of Flatbush Avenue and King’s Highway). He adopted the invented name “Wyckoff” when the British took over New Amsterdam.

Pieter and Grietje had eleven children, all of whom married, had children and went on to live somewhat prosperous lives.

Here’s the very same house as it looks today. It’s now a museum, a National Historic Landmark, and officially the Oldest Structure in New York City. It’s located in the heart of Brooklyn.

Photo of the Wyckoff House, courtesy bridgeandtunnelclub.com, http://www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com/bigmap/brooklyn/eastflatbush/wyckoffhouse/index.htm

 

Apple Map view looking down on Brooklyn with Manhattan in the distance. The Wyckoff House is shown in the red circle.

 

Climbing on the Family Tree:

The family lineage from Pieter to me:

Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, born 1625

Cornelius Wyckoff (one of 11 children!), born 1656

Simon Wyckoff, born 1683

Cornelius Wyckoff, born 1715

George Wyckoff, born 1745

George Wyckoff, born 1795

Cornelius Wyckoff, born 1820

(From here the lineage goes on the female side)

Maloda Wyckoff, born 1853 (my great-great grandmother)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maloda’s daughter Edna Moore, born 1876 (my great grandmother)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edna’s daughter Frances Muller, born 1908 (my grandmother)

 

 

 

 

Frances’ daughter Barbara King, my mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denise Dahn (me…long ago at age 22)

 

 

 

Read more about the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House

http://www.historichousetrust.org/item.php?i_id=14

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/nyregion/21houses.html?_r=0

http://hvva.org/hvvanews5-4.htm

Explore historic New Amsterdam:

http://www.virtualnewamsterdam.com/page/page/1846100.htm

Explore New York City before settlement:

http://welikia.org/about/overview/

To read the entire ship’s log from the voyage: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~clifflamere/Misc/MI-LogRenWyck.htm#Part%201

To read some of the ship’s correspondence: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nycoloni/rnscores.html

To read more about Fort Orange on the New York State Museum site: http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/albany/loc/fortorange.html#farmers

 

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NOTES:

1. “A Description of New Netherlands”, pages 6 and 70, by Adrian van der Donck, first published in 1655, and re-translated by Dederik W. Goedhuys.

 

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Sources Include:

“A Description of New Netherland”, by Adriaen van der Donck and first published in 1655. Newly translated by Diederik Willem Goedhuys.

“The Island at the Center of the World”, by Russell Shorto

“New York”, by Edward Rutherfurd

“Daily Life in Holland in the Year 1566″, by Rien Poorttvliet

“White Servitude”, by Richard Hofstadter (article on-line)

“Dutch and English on the Hudson”, by Maud Wilder Goodwin (available on-line via project Gutenberg)

The Rise of Pieter Claessen Wyckoff, Social Mobility on the Colonial Frontier, by Mortom Wagman.

The Wyckoff Families of Old Canarsie Lane, by Mae Lubizt.

The Wyckoff Family in America, Published by the Wyckoff Association in America

Lucie Chin and Joshua Van Kirk, the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum

Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts: Being the Letters of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer

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Eat Prey, Love – the Sequel

There has been an update since I originally posted “Eat Prey, Love” in the fall of 2012! Journey not only has a mate, but a new family!

Read about it here.

 

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A Lone Wolf called Journey

Journey was a lone wolf that crossed into California in 2011. He was the only one left from the scattered—or poached—Imnaha pack in eastern Oregon, and the first wild wolf in California in nearly a century. Since then, he’s probably been looking for a mate and scouting out his territory. Being alone for so long, he probably had a harder time hunting larger prey like elk and lived mainly on smaller animals like beaver or rabbits.

I hope Journey has found his mate and gets his family. Most of all, I hope he learns to hunt wild prey, rather than sheep or cattle—a sure death sentence.

I hope we can learn to respect wildlife for being themselves rather than as trophies, entertainment, or pseudo-pets. I hope we will make a place for wildness.

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From Eat Prey, Love, originally posted October 25, 2012

 

Can we make a place for wildness?

A lone wolf called Journey was California’s first wild wolf in nearly a century. Now, he’s back in Oregon, possibly with his new mate.

 

Wild or Captive? It makes a difference

Many wildlife biologists no longer favor the term “Alpha” in describing wolf behavior. Even the idea of a “pack” is somewhat outmoded. These old ideas were originally made popular by biologist L. David Mech in 1970. As he explains on his website, his original research was done on captive wolves, and has since been updated with field research on wolves in the wild—with quite different results.

While captive wolves do behave in the alpha-dominance model, it is not common in the wild. I’ve heard it likened to how humans behave when forced into captivity, like prisons or concentration camps. Social norms break down. Things get savage.

In contrast, wild wolves live in family groups of related individuals: the parents, called the breeding pair, and their offspring, which include the current years’ pups and possibly older siblings from one or two previous seasons. The breeding pair are the leaders, not because they fought their way into their high status position through force and dominance, but simply because they are the parents. Parents know best, right?

It makes a subtle but important difference in how we view wolves. Their social behavior is not centered on dominance, but on family. Wolves live and work together cooperatively based on age and experience, with the older ones teaching the younger ones how to be wolves. When they’re ready, the youths leave the family to find a mate, establish a territory, and make a family—their own pack.

 

What does it mean to be wild?

I flip open my ipad and check my Google alert on wolves (October, 2012). The top article is from Wisconsin, where the first wolf hunting season in 38 years started a few days ago. A father-son team of trophy hunters snared the first wolf, a young female, in a legtrap. They had seen her struggling as they approached with their rifles, finally shooting her in the head to complete the hunt. Her pelt would be their trophy, hanging on their wall to remind them of their proud accomplishment. They get to be the alpha dudes, the true top predators, thanks to superior hunting skills—and a little help from modern technology.

The next article tells of a college girl who takes her wolfdog (85-90% wolf, 10-15% dog) to campus with her. The photo shows her and the muzzled wolfdog gazing into each others’ eyes, and the girl receiving a huge juicy-looking tongue kiss. The caption says she majors in wildlife science and occasionally sleeps with the wolfdog.

These two cases really run the gamut. The first is about dominance through violence, and the second, well, it is a form of trophy-ism, too, just on the other extreme. A little too Fifty Shades of Graywolf, from the look of it.

I wonder why we need to treat wild animals in these ways, either to prove our own supremacy, or as proxies for decent relationship-material? (Or worse, for cheap entertainment, as in some circuses and creepy You-Tube videos.) I’m not saying that trophy hunters—or college girls who love wolves—should be kicked out of America. But what about simply appreciating wildness? Do we have a place for that, as well?

It’s only recently we’ve learned how important top predators—like wolves—are in natural ecosystems. When they are gone, they are missed—not just by us tree-huggers, but by other living things like trees and plants and pollinating insects, and birds and even the prey species, eventually. Living with wildness is messy and complicated and will take serious cooperation and effort and money from all of us, but it will be worth it in the long run… if we want to leave something decent behind us when we are gone. A habitable planet, for example.

 

To learn more about wolves and conservation in the Northwest: http://www.conservationnw.org/

To keep on Journey and his latest doings: http://www.oregonwild.org/fish_wildlife/bringing_wolves_back/the-journey-of-or7

To read an article about top predators and their effect on ecosystems: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203630604578072693046060834.html

Forest Sketch

This post was originally published in May, 2013

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On one of my forest walks, I came upon an elderly gentleman who was standing by the trail, gazing up at a gnarly bigleaf maple. It was one of those Seattle-summer days when the sun comes out unexpectedly, and after weeks of dismal gray, the world was in full-color once again. The whole forest was glowing.

As I passed, the man tipped his hat to me in a polite, old-fashioned way that seemed out-of-place in West Seattle. He must be from a foreign country. Or at least, a foreign time.

“You know what I wish?” he asked, smiling. “I wish I was an artist. I wish I could paint this!” He swept his hand across the lovely scene.

I stood with him for a moment admiring the lumpy, twisted old maple. The sunlight was filtering through the leafy canopy, falling in streaks against the brilliant moss-covered trunk. I imagined painting the tree, how I would drag brushloads of sap green over raw umber to capture the colors and play of light.

I was just about to share my art-thoughts with him when I noticed his eyes had teared up a little. “I want to remember this tree,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but by the time I get home, I’ll have forgotten. It’ll all be lost…like it never existed. If I was an artist, I could paint this and take it home with me. I’d have it forever.”

I realized we weren’t really talking about art at all, but about how it feels when things we love slip away. Was he afraid his beautiful world was disappearing…being erased into blankness?

He was still standing with the old maple when I continued on my walk. I hope he remembers his tree.

I wish I had painted it for him.

 

An acrylic sketch I did of a maple in one of Seattle’s beautiful forested parks. This one didn’t have a mossy trunk, but it was beautiful anyway.

 

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A sad note to end this story…

A few weeks ago, I learned that this same gentleman — a well-known park visitor — was knocked over and badly injured by a couple of (illegally) off-leash dogs in this same park.

Increasingly, people are treating urban natural areas as places to let their dogs run free. It is only a minority of the dogs that cause damage or injury, but that minority is causing serious problems—not only to other visitors but to the plants and wildlife that depend on these natural areas for survival. For that reason, ALL dogs need to be leashed where the law requires it. Unless everyone cooperates, those few trouble-makers will simply say “Everyone does it.”

Please. Leash. Your. Pets.

It is your responsibility.