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Cowen Park

Sunny in Seattle
5849 15th Ave. N.E., Seattle    

Cowen Park is one of those rare Seattle spots that seem to hold sunlight even on gray days. Real estate developer Charles Cowen donated the land for the park to the City of Seattle in 1906. His belief that "Man does not live by bread alone" is carved into pillars marking the original entrance to the park at the corner of Northeast Ravenna Boulevard and University Way Northeast.

History: Cowen Park was originally a deep ravine. A favorite place for neighborhood picnics, Cowen Park ravine was especially appreciated by parents for being a place where keeping track of young children was relatively easy: The steep ravine walls formed a natural barrier between the park and nearby streets.

In 1961, this ravine was filled with dirt and debris from the construction of Interstate 5 in Seattle. Neighbors objected strenuously, but had little recourse. The resulting groomed playfields are widely used for organized sports, casual play and gatherings. The 15th Avenue Bridge borders the east side of the park. It was built in 1938, replacing a wooden streetcar trestle.

Features: A 1960s-era playground was added to the park after the ravine was filled. By the mid-1990s, this playground had deteriorated to the point of danger and uselessness, and Cowen Park itself was slipping into seamy disrepair. Neighbors, however, refused to abandon the spot, forming the Friends of Cowen Park.

In 1999, with help from City of Seattle neighborhood matching funds, they reclaimed the play space, raising money for a large modern playscape, new swings (two for toddlers), and a fabulous zipline/cable ride. This zipline makes Cowen Park particularly appealing to older children who feel they've outgrown most playgrounds: It is a really wild ride!

An enormous climbable Randy Nussbaum-designed sundial marking the time, solstices and equinox is perhaps the playground's most unique feature. On the slope abutting the sundial, four cast-bronze sculptures by artist Rachel Boughton show the life cycle of a frog - totally touchable and kid-friendly.

Wide, flat fields perfect for races or Frisbee surround the playground. A comfort station/shelter house has recently been renovated, funded by the 2000 Pro Parks levy. This structure houses a community room that is used by Park Services for camps and community events. Both the men's and women's restrooms offer changing tables.

For further adventure, a paved path runs down into the Ravenna Park ravine. This ravine is the continuation of the filled Cowen Park ravine. Children should not venture into it alone, both for their safety and to ensure the ravine's fragile ecology: Volunteers spend countless hours installing native shrubs on the ravine walls to control erosion.

Nearby: Whole Foods Market (1026 N.E. 65th St.) offers a full deli, bakery and espresso bar, along with a Jamba Juice smoothie counter. Pop Tots (6505 Roosevelt Way N.E.) is a fun kids clothing shop filled with both resale and new items. And extremely hip moms will like the cool women's resale clothing at Oh Bella (next door to Pop Tots). The University branch of the Seattle Public Library is a short bus or car ride (or a fairly long hike) away at 5009 Roosevelt Way N.E.

Paula Becker is a contributing editor to HistoryLink.org and mother of three.

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