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Curbed History Lessons: The Draining of Green Lake

Seattle is known for tree-huggers, Earth-firsters, moss-between-the-toes nature lovers. So, here's a story about how Seattle got this way by leveling hills, filling valleys, and rerouting water.


Ah, the clear blue waters of Green Lake, which, never quite happened. Nature has always thought algae should bloom there, since probably not long after the ultimate earthmover of a glacier carved it out and then retreated. Green's its thing. And that's a good thing, a green lake surrounded by green land is a welcome contrast to the grid of roads that wraps around it. At least the naming was simple.

Green Lake is the biggest bit of fresh water within the city limits that isn't part of some navigable waterway. The only shipping on Green Lake is by paddle, oar, sail, or swimming - and the swimming is denied for a while because the water is a bit too icky. Toxins can ruin your day. (Check the city for updates.) This is one other option: milk cartons. Every year as part of Seafair, the milk carton derby is held on the water. For some poor boats the derby is on it, then in it, then in the mud. At least most of the lake isn't too deep.

What is it about Seattle and draining lakes? In 1911 they did it just for the fun of it, as in they wanted more land so people could have more fun. Green Lake was drained to expose more land; which became green land and lawns, and park space. It is hard to argue with the result, though one of the most natural looking parks in Seattle is only kept that way by dredging out the dirt and adding in more water. They drained the lake to the point that the majority of the water comes in as rain or from the city.


In the suburbs there are green belts that wrap around neighborhoods. At Green Lake, the neighborhoods wrap around the greenery. The various paths and sidewalks make a 3 mile lap that's convenient for strollers, walkers, skaters, and runners. The biggest traffic problem is the other strollers, walkers, skaters, and runners. The loop is also a convenient way to wander past the houses with prices ranging from $1,878,000 down to $180,000. A short walk saves a lot of money, but misses out on the view. Take your choice. In either case, enjoy the neighborhood and a slightly shrunken lake.
· Green Lake [wikipedia]
· Green Lake Park [Seattle Parks]
· Milk Carton Derby [Seafair]
· Closed to swimming [Seattle Parks]
· Greenlake Outer Run 1 lap [mapmyrun - Andrew]
· MLS #: 680575 for $1,878,000 [Zillow]
· MLS #: 693456 for $180,000 [Zillow]
· All History Lesson coverage [CS]
Written by Tom Trimbath