Bringing Roxhill Bog fully back to life: WWRHAH searches for more community history, seeks help for bog’s future

March 16, 2014 at 7:28 pm | In Environment, West Seattle news | 23 Comments

(Southwestern side of Roxhill Bog, photographed today by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
Just a short distance past the playground and skatespot in Roxhill Park is Roxhill Bog – historically, where Longfellow Creek begins.

It’s undergone some restoration work in the past, but needs a lot more, and the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council has been working to put together a plan/request for Seattle Parks and Seattle Public Utilities. The bog’s past may be a key to our area’s future – and the proper restoration could help reduce flood problems along the Longfellow Creek corridor, as well as reducing the area where trouble sometimes lurks.

They’ve gathered a fair amount of information already, but, as WWRHAH secretary Joe Szilagyi explains, “At this point we’re just trying to fill in the last gaps of knowledge and information over a very, very long period of time before we can finalize our planning and bring this to SPU and Parks.” So if you have had any historical knowledge of/information about Roxhill Bog, they’ve set up a special e-mail address and invite you to get in touch: bog@wwrhah.org.

P.S. The area’s wetlands have had rough treatment in the past – while doing some added research, we found in the Seattle Municipal Archives this city photo dated exactly 53 years ago today (March 16, 1961), labeled “W. Roxbury paving, peat bog/26th and Barton,” though we can’t tell exactly where it is in relation to the current park site:

Meantime, if you are interested in more background on the current challenges and potential benefits of tackling them, read on for the text of the letter Szilagyi has sent to city and county leaders on WWRHAH’s behalf:

I’m writing today from the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council (WWRHAH) in West Seattle, about the following, which is a possible multi-neighborhood Seattle Parks and Public Utilities issue, with a possible County impact:

http://www.wwrhah.org/roxhill-bog-restoration-project/

We have been, over the past year, pursuing and investigating various issues surrounding Roxhill Park in West Seattle, ranging from it having a new King County Metro Transit Hub put next to it, to it’s crime rates, to a host of other problems. In the process of researching all of this, we gradually began to get more and more people attending our meetings with backgrounds and careers in ecology, forestry, and other environmental sciences, due to the unique character of this park and their happening to live in our WWRHAH area.

Roxhill Park is unique in being a cold-water peat bog, and may be the only known publicly accessible one in the county and region. It is also a wetland and part of the headwaters of Longfellow Creek watershed:

http://www.seattle.gov/util/EnvironmentConservation/OurWatersheds/UrbanWatersheds/DuwamishRiver/LongfellowCreek/index.htm

Many people believed that the watershed’s restoration with Roxhill Park was completed. It turns out that this is not completely accurate, and the previous work done may in fact have caused other problems of a possible rise in flooding in other parts of West Seattle due to its incomplete nature. In short:

The bog’s water levels are too low.

The bog’s water levels fluctuate too much.

The reduced water levels could eventually cause the destruction of the natural peat base, which may be irreversible.

The most likely cause: a stormwater drainage system which may be acting as a French drain surrounding the park is draining the bog.

We can’t be positive without a full hydrological study, but it’s highly likely that this is the cause.

The current condition of the bog and park may be contributing to periodic flooding north along the Delridge corridor, all the way to the North Delridge neighborhood.

We’re mailing today to inform you of this and to ask for your support in the investigation of this with the very skilled members of our “Bog Committee.” We initially believed this would be a matter to be pursued through a grant of some sort through the City’s Department of Neighborhoods, but the more our people dug into this, it began to appear to be a general SPU and/or Parks issue. It may be a necessity to address this, versus a “nice to have” scenario better suited for the city’s competitive neighborhood grant process.

If our team’s early assessment is correct, a coffer dam (sort of a water retaining system) would be required to be placed inside of the perimeter of the existing “French drain” system. This would allow rain water, standing water, and natural storm water runoff to be retained more appropriately in the bog year round, while still allowing the existing drainage to continue outside of that, protecting the recreational park areas we have put a lot of restoration and project money into over the years, and protecting the urban neighbors of the Roxhill Bog: Daystar Retirement Village, Westwood Village Shopping Area, Roxhill Elementary School, a SHAG retirement building, a complex of low-income housing, and various single family homes.

To get to that point — if our early assessment is correct — would require the following four steps:

1. Develop a new park hydrology model

2. Design hardware to go into the ground to keep the water in the bog

3. The building and installation of it all

4. Follow up study to make sure it’s working

Parts 1 and 4 could take up to two years each, from our estimation. Parts 2 and 3 may be expensive, but this could have a broadly positive impact in the areas of:

Restoring this unique location to its natural environmental state

Educational opportunities for city schools with a hydrated peat bog; there is no other like it anywhere nearby

Possible local mitigation of storm water runoff, which may aid on the city and county level with Federal concerns on that subject

Crime prevention, as we have seen and reported many documented cases of public drunkenness, open air drug consumption, and illegal camping in the unnaturally dried-out peat bog areas

Thank you,

Joe Szilagyi
Secretary, Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council
http://www.wwrhah.org

Again, if you have any information to add to what WWRHAH is sharing above, please let them know via bog@wwrhah.org – and join in the council’s monthly meetings, first Tuesdays @ 7 pm, Southwest Branch Library (35th/Henderson).

23 Comments

  1. Enlarging the older photo, I’m guessing those houses in the background are the current ones just west of Roxhill Park. Would that make the photo somewhere even with the RapidRide Transit hub and across the street from Target? Anyone recognize your rambler house??!

    Comment by KD — 8:43 pm March 16, 2014 #

  2. KD, I was thinking the same thing … but not entirely sure until someone else made the same observation. Didn’t see it until AFTER Patrick and I slogged through the rain to get the afternoon bog photo or I would have compared. Did look at Google Street View, inconclusive … TR

    Comment by WSB — 8:59 pm March 16, 2014 #

  3. I seem to recall an old-timer telling me once that there was a Japanese family who owned the plot of land where Westwood Village stands now (or perhaps where Roxhill park currently is) and they had an enormous and beautiful Asian garden. I have no idea if it’s true. Perhaps someone else here knows.

    Comment by Friend O'Dinghus — 9:40 pm March 16, 2014 #

  4. Westwood Village was built in 1965 (thanks to White Center article on HistoryLink.org).
    Also referred to that area being owned by Kodama family prior to WWII forced relocation).
    That picture could align with the current driveway next to Taco Del Mar – looking WSW up/across Barton?

    Comment by Sutton — 10:56 pm March 16, 2014 #

  5. I heard stories from Ron Angeles, the retired DoN rep for Delridge. (Rory might know this – last I heard Ron was coaching at Evergreen.) He’s got great stories. His childhood was spent in that area of Westwood, which use to be included in Highland Park??? Pre-shopping conglomerate that is??? Ron mentioned farms all around there, if I recall correctly.

    Comment by Westseattledood — 11:08 pm March 16, 2014 #

  6. A visitor to Daystar once mentioned that he had frequently skated on a pond in the exact location where Daystar now sits.

    Comment by anonyme — 6:17 am March 17, 2014 #

  7. Maria Dolan & Kathryn True estimate age of the bog at 10,000 years (of accumulated plant detritus). Their book, Nature in the City, gives further details of phase 1 restoration & thoughts on the bog’s original extent (spreading as far as the eye can see, including the school grounds to the south and Westwood village to the north.)

    Comment by Melissa Poe — 7:33 am March 17, 2014 #

  8. Thanks, Melissa! Found that book here:
    .
    http://www.amazon.com/Nature-City-Seattle-Kathryn-True/dp/0898868793
    .
    there also seems to be a Google preview, showing Roxhill Bog on page 209.
    .

    Comment by WSB — 7:38 am March 17, 2014 #

  9. I think the picture was taken looking west towards 35th from the area that is now a small parking lot between McDonald’s and Barton. The picture was taken about the time Westwood Village was being planned/built. My mom used to take us there anytime we had to collect bugs for school science classes.

    Comment by BornInWestSeattle — 8:32 am March 17, 2014 #

  10. Wow. That is unbelievable.

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 8:42 am March 17, 2014 #

  11. So if the land was taken from a family forced to relocate because of Executive Order 9066, who was paid for the land to become commercial and residential? How can we pay back this family/these families?

    And how can we preserve the peat?

    Comment by ocean — 8:59 am March 17, 2014 #

  12. This is so interesting. Thanks for posting.

    Comment by heather — 9:05 am March 17, 2014 #

  13. I enjoyed reading about a West Seattle bog in the West Seattle Blog.

    Comment by cjboffoli — 10:40 am March 17, 2014 #

  14. I have never heard of that book – fantastic!

    A few years ago, I recall mention in historical SW research, of “swampy” tracts of the first early real estate development. Just before the Burien – Highland Park Streetcar was laid) in Highline/White Center and South Delridge – all had considerable swampy soil. The first Residential developers avoided it, but farmers seemed to know what to do with it. Talk about beautiful compost!

    The “swampy” residential development was throughout the area. A neighbor of mine died last year at 105. He and his family built many of the houses in Delridge, but especially Highland Park where they one of the first to lay housing tracts. The bogs *might* have been as far east as the current Highland Park and Elementary School on 10th. My neighbor told us that it was a huge “pond” and that the ponds were everywhere in Highland Park (which would have included what we now call Westwood – named, btw, after the original development corporation).

    Comment by westseattledood — 10:54 am March 17, 2014 #

  15. Hi everyone, please, keep this info coming! Every single thing you are all saying is backed up by records and photos, and that historylink article, turning anecdotal info into facts when you put it together. We’ve updated the timeline on the article further. We haven’t seen a concrete reference to the “Swampy bog” going as far east as 11th or 10th Ave, but there’s definitely reference to it being as far east as White Center, so it’s probably that far out historically, too. It makes you wonder how much storm water we’re wasting by dumping toward the Sound that can be just shunted off to our bog for holding, for a lot cheaper…

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 11:55 am March 17, 2014 #

  16. Joe, the City of Seattle Engineering Department should have land survey records of the area in their archives. Info on the Records Vault is at http://www.seattle.gov/Util/Engineering/Records_Vault/Vault_Contents/index.htm.

    My mom (WS resident since 1952) said the land had to be drained and streams diverted before they could built Westwood Village. I remember the land as having creeks and lots of mud, and having to be careful not to fall because the terrain wasn’t level.

    Comment by BornInWestSeattle — 2:17 pm March 17, 2014 #

  17. The municipal archives bog-digging photos are just fascinating. Missed this one when looking last night. http://is.gd/dTmIX3

    Comment by WSB — 3:01 pm March 17, 2014 #

  18. Yes, this is all very interesting, and love the historic pics posted and linked.

    .

    I, too, have heard the anecdotal history of Westwood Village being a big bog/marshy type area, but have no memory of my own of such.

    .

    At the time Westwood was completed, I would have been around 6 or 7, and we lived near the Charlestown Water Tower. But, my Dad’s Cousin lived along the western edge of Westwood, just a few doors in from Trenton.

    .

    I seem to recall that we visited the Cousin and his family quite often, but don’t recall Westwood being built, or even being there. Part of that may be that (IIRC) few, or no structures belonging to Westwood existed that far north on the property.

    .

    Regarding the bog area extending eastward; FWIW, some friends of mine lived at 15th & Trenton 20-ish years ago, and they mentioned their house was built on a Spring, I believe it was.

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 3:44 pm March 17, 2014 #

  19. I went to one of the Barton overflow project meetings and one of my neighbors (N of Thistle) said that they unexpectedly found a stream when they lifted his house to put in a basement.

    Comment by heather — 3:52 pm March 17, 2014 #

  20. That last photo is nuts. You can (I think) see layers of peat there.

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 4:11 pm March 17, 2014 #

  21. @Heather, do you by any chance remember their location or cross street? That could be really, really helpful information the closer we can ID that spot.

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 4:12 pm March 17, 2014 #

  22. For years the Japanese family grew rice in a huge part of what is now Westwood Village. The fields were a bit terraced and workers wore those historic round/pointed hats and baggy clothes as they cared for the fields. Eventually an Ernst Hardware store was built on the site and now Chase resides in the general area.

    Comment by WSGirl — 7:39 pm March 17, 2014 #

  23. @Joe I don’t remember specifically but it was North of Thistle and West of Delridge. The Barton Street overflow project doesn’t go much further and it’s in that vicinity. You might try to contact Kristine Cramer, Community Services and Environmental Planning |Wastewater Treatment Division: Kristine.Cramer@kingcounty.gov they should know as homeowners filled out a form requesting any historical info on your property.

    Comment by heather — 11:02 am March 18, 2014 #

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