The 'Forest Immersion' trail would incorporate more of the original trail and have more branches from the main trail to viewpoints.
The 'Forest Immersion' trail would incorporate more of the original trail and have more branches from the main trail to viewpoints.

The popular South Beach Trail in Discovery Park is showing signs of degradation and overgrowth after years of use. Many of the wood features near the trail are pushing 30 years old and are beginning to wear out, and parts of the trail are eroding and making the trail unusable for those with limited abilities.

These problems are concerns for the group Friends of Discovery Park, which is looking at redesigning the trail as a whole to create more viewpoints and provide more access for residents and tourists who use the trail to find views of the Puget Sound.

Friends of Discovery Park held a public meeting about the proposed trail changes at the Discovery Park Learning Center on Wednesday, March 6. The meeting drew about 30 residents interested in learning more about the project and providing comments.

Friends of Discovery Park volunteer Ken Bryan presented two alternatives for the trail with landscape designer Tom Walker with J.A. Brennan Associates.

Friends of Discovery Park was granted $80,000 from Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods to scope out the project. Bryan said the organization is using the grant money to work with Walker on trail design, cost estimates and other project elements.

Friends of Discovery Park members scoped out and surveyed the trail over the last few months, and from those results worked with Walker to create potential new trail options. The group also worked with a geotechnical assessment company to find out what parts of the trail are more susceptible to landslides, floods and earthquake damage.

“Our trail is in desperate need of tender loving care,” Bryan said. “We did a lot of walking around and examining the current trail ... the trail is now 35 years old. And there are signs of erosion, unstable areas, bad steps and soil creep. Our goal is to improve our user experience. And we believe the best design comes out of community work.”

Bryan and other volunteers took the findings to the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods for input and then held the public meeting to gain more input on the two options.

Discovery Park has a long history with the city since its official park designation in the 1970s. The original master plan calls for a rustic and natural look and feel, to help city residents feel in touch with nature.

“It's a world-class park,” Walker said. “It has dramatic views and is an attraction for many.”

The current trail has four viewpoints between its two ends and it provides beach access to hikers and runners.

The first alternative — the “South Edge Explorer” — is a serpentine trail design that would be located southwest of the current trail and run along the slopes and beach area of the park. Two of the current viewpoints would remain, with additions to the viewpoint at the South Beach Trail and Hidden Valley Trail intersection. The alternative would add seven new viewpoints along the trail.

The second alternative — the "Forest Immersion" trail — includes more of the original trail, three of the original viewpoints and seven new viewpoints. Unlike the serpentine trail, which automatically leads hikers to each viewpoint, this alternative includes multiple branches off the main trail, which would allow runners to move quickly past rest areas while others gather at benches and outdoor viewing decks.

“They are both really quite nice,” Walker said. “Other sub-alternatives we are looking at are decks versus on-grade viewpoints ... do we want to make some placemaking or gathering areas? To do restoration plantings of not? Those are some of the ideas that get mixed in both of these. But this is just a shopping list of things we can incorporate.”

The few residents who attended the meeting did have some comments and concerns about the proposed alternatives.

“I have a concern about the serpentine one,” one resident said. “If there is not enough vegetation, runners will be able to see from the top of one serpentine to the next and will just cut across. The possibility of social trails is there.”

Walker said he is hoping to make sure there is enough distance and vegetation between parts of the trail to keep social trails from being created.

A few residents expressed concerns about the trail’s effect on the park environment. Bryan said no substantial trees would be removed for the trail; instead, the placement of the trail would remove dead or diseased trees and invasive overgrowth, such as blackberry bushes.

Walker and Bryan spent two hours discussing the trail with residents on Wednesday. Bryan said the next step is to have the group take the city and residents’ comments into consideration and work to create a final proposal, which will then be presented again to the city.

Once a final trail proposal is approved, Friends of Discovery Park will begin looking for funding for the project. The design process is expected to conclude by the end of May. There is no timeline for the construction of the trail.

Friends of Discovery Park is planning to host another public meeting about the project on Wednesday, March 27, at the Discovery Park Learning Center.