| Family fun

Juanita Bay Park

Urban wildlife habitat right in our own backyard

The Basics: Juanita Bay Park is Kirkland's largest park, a 144-acre wetland and urban wildlife habitat on 3,000 feet of Lake Washington shoreline, located at 2201 Market St. Rolling landscaped hills dotted with benches and picnic tables lead to more than a mile of trails and walkways that allow visitors to venture out over marsh and wetlands. Although it feels deeply calm, the park is actually alive with water plants and wildlife that includes beavers and over 100 species of bird. Interpretive and historical information signs throughout the park further enrich the experience.

History: Prior to 1830, a Duwamish winter village that consisted of three tribal longhouses existed on what would later be named Forbes Creek in the present-day Juanita Bay Park. Smallpox introduced by fur traders eliminated these permanent settlements. Survivors returned seasonally to gather wapato on nearby Juanita Creek until 1916, when the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal lowered the lake nine feet, destroying the habitat of this important Native American food source. Real estate developer Guy Farrar purchased most of the land that would become Juanita Bay Park with money he made during the Alaska gold rush. Between 1912-1918, Farrar filled the fertile wetlands with sawdust, cedar bark and dirt and developed the property into a golf course in the hope of attracting real estate customers. The golf course closed in 1975 and, left alone, the former wetlands began to re-establish themselves and reclaim the lakefront. The City of Kirkland used the old golf course, Juanita slough and the 36.5- acre Johnson Preserve to piece together Juanita Bay Park.

Features: A kiosk near the parking lot featuring a map and bright photographs of blue and green herons, redwing blackbirds, painted turtles and beavers marks the head of the path. Kids with sharp eyes will spot some of these creatures (and many more) as they explore the park. The East and West Boardwalk nature trails lead to platforms suspended over the lake. Damselflies dart above the cattails, turtles scramble for logs amidst the lily pads and bald eagles skim the lake's surface looking for supper. Even a few minutes of listening to birdsong and watching the water will show kids the profusion of wildlife that can thrive when a lakeshore is allowed to remain undeveloped by humans. A guide to the park's wildlife, and a plant inventory, can be found at www.ci.kirkland.wa.us/depart/parks/tours.htm.

A long pedestrian causeway bracketed by small interpretive centers leads across a marsh, shrub wetland and wooded wetland, and past a beaver pond. Forbes Creek runs along the east side of the causeway, crossing under it and continuing into Lake Washington near the beaver pond. Juanita Beach Park, once a popular summer resort that included a dance hall and large bathhouse, is visible across Juanita Bay. For more on the history of Juanita Beach Park see www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=4009.

This park is great for all ages and is especially well-suited to toddler exploration: All of the walkways close to water boast sturdy railings with spaces wide enough for young children to look (but not fall) through. And since short flat trails branch off the main pathway, parents will not find themselves stranded far from the parking lot with a small, suddenly-worn-out walking partner.

Access: Juanita Bay Park's wide paved paths make it easily accessible to people using wheelchairs, strollers or bikes, although bicycles are not allowed onto the raised wooden walkways extending over the wetlands. Signage throughout the park is low enough that kids can read it without a boost. The bathrooms lack changing tables.

Nearby: Parkplace Center is located two miles south of Juanita Bay Park at the corner of Central Way and 6th Street, and features many food options. The Kirkland Branch of the King County Library is located at 308 Kirkland Ave., (425-822-2459), one block from Parkplace Center across Peter Kirk Park

Paula Becker is a staff historian for www.HistoryLink.org and a mother of three.

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