Neighbors hope to derail surprise Schmitz Park stairway

(WSB photos)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Back in April, we reported briefly on tree-cutting along the northwest approach to Schmitz Park. When asked, Seattle Parks told us that it was part of a “restoration project” that also would “make permanent an informal pathway up a steep hillside for safety.”

Now, with construction imminent, neighbors suddenly learned that plan involves building a full-fledged stairway up a slope where they insist there is no “informal pathway” – a stairway that would lead to and from a spot where there isn’t even a sidewalk, the corner of 57th and Stevens [map].

Outreach on the project was minimal, admitted two Parks managers who came to the site Monday afternoon for an outdoor meeting with upset neighbors, but they blamed that on the project proceeding in the early months of the pandemic, when public entities (among others) had to figure out new communications methods.

Michelle Whitfield and Kim Baldwin told the neighbors they were there to “hear your voices.” One clear voice promptly rang out: “Are you able to change the plans?”

No promises, the two said. Then they got into some backstory.

This dates back a few years, to a community survey about the city’s Olmsted parks, including Schmitz Preserve. We published a short story about it at the time, they noted. (Here’s what we published in 2019.) The city studied 80 Olmsted parks and chose three for “maintenance” projects.

“This is a brand-new structure,” pointed out one neighbor. “How is it a ‘maintenance project’?”

It’s “maintaining the slope” because of the trail at the spot, the Parks reps replied.

No, protested neighbors, there’s no trail at 57th/Stevens. Further down the block to the west, by the park entrance, yes:

But not at the blind corner where a narrow block of Stevens turns into a not-much-wider 57th. The Parks managers insisted they “were hearing” there’s a trail on that slope, maybe overgrown, but definitely there. They said they had surveyed some park users and some people at Alki Elementary, adjacent to the park entrance one block west. The neighbors – most of whom said they had lived in the area for double digits – continued to insist, “There’s no goat path here.”

The path/no-path standoff eventually gave way to an exploration of why the neighbors weren’t notified about the stairway plan.

“No plans showed a stairway here, or we would have jumped on it,” said one resident. If not for a crew showing up spray-painting markings, “how would we EVER have known?” (Even this May news release didn’t pinpoint that particular location.)

The Parks managers tried gamely to discuss other points of the project, including the 12 big old trees removed because they were “diseased,” and “re-vegetation” along the “goat trails” further west on the slope.

Some of the weedy tangle on the slope is being replaced by turf; rolls were in view waiting at the foot of the slope. Parks says their crews will maintain the resulting grass. But the sidewalklessness resurfaced in the discussion. “How is this a safety improvement?” asked one neighbor.

“This will implement the original Olmsted version of connecting Schmitz Park to Alki,” insisted Whitfield.

How, when the stairway will drop people onto a residential street 2+ blocks south of the spot where a beachfront restroom is being rebuilt?

Some asked if the stairway would be lit. No – no new lighting in a “natural area,” the Parks managers said. Without lighting, the residents countered, the stairway would be an ideal gathering spot for “illicit activities” they said were already happening in the area at night – they mentioned finding “condoms, pot, needles” in their yard in the morning. “We don’t need another place for them to do it.”

The questions turned to some practical points. How much is the stairway supposed to cost? $54,000. When is the construction scheduled? August. Who will do the construction? Parks crews. Have they already procured the materials? Yes. Has this kind of project happened at other parks? “We do this all the time.”

It seems like “a solution in search of a problem,” contended another neighbor.

One attendee expressed appreciation that Schmitz Park was set to get some TLC, “but I just wish the community had been consulted.”

This kind of meeting should have been held at the start of planning, not when an about-to-be-built project suddenly comes to light, scolded another resident.

Before packing up their easels and table, the Parks reps promised they’d be talking to their bosses – including Superintendent Jesús Aguirre – and getting back to the neighbors by the end of the week.

(We requested electronic copies of the plans today, but were told we won’t get them before tomorrow. We’ll add them to this story once we do.)

53 Replies to "Neighbors hope to derail surprise Schmitz Park stairway"

  • Peter June 15, 2021 (6:45 pm)

    Oh no. Easier access to a park. How horrible. 

  • T June 15, 2021 (6:55 pm)

    Thank you neighbors for jumping in on this. So appreciated. 

  • AMD June 15, 2021 (6:56 pm)

    Why wouldn’t you want stairs?  I don’t understand the issue at all.  Is it better to have everyone forging their own way on a makeshift trail through the trees rather than sticking to the same, safer, established path created by the staircase?  There are plenty of other staircases in West Seattle that connect to roads and intersections that don’t have sidewalks.  They’re still used, as people still walk on these roads, with or without the staircase.  The answer should be to add more sidewalks, not eliminate pedestrian infrastructure in places where people are walking anyway.  I hope they build the stairs when all is said and done.  What a bizarre thing to get upset about.  

    • Susan June 15, 2021 (9:29 pm)

      In Puget Park area, would be a gift to get stairs on steep slopes into Delridge green belt and to Delridge Ave to access both nature and commerce. What’s the problem? I’m confused. Does seem nimby. 

    • Steve S. June 16, 2021 (9:37 am)

      Did you bother to read the article?

  • Flivver June 15, 2021 (6:59 pm)

    WSB. Re-beachfront restroom. Crews come, do a little work then disappear. Shell was built a month ago-then nothing. 10 days ago 2 workers came and pressure washed the shell they’d built-nobody’s been back since. 

  • Kevin June 15, 2021 (7:07 pm)

    God forbid the city makes walkability improvements where it has the right to do so. 

  • Ken June 15, 2021 (7:11 pm)

    Classic NIMBY.

  • Auntie June 15, 2021 (7:41 pm)

    I’m sure there is a better use for $54,000 

  • Kris June 15, 2021 (8:04 pm)

    I don’t live anywhere near here, but I do enjoy Schmitz Park and run through there often. It’s great the city is looking to make improvements to the park, but this is such an odd project. It seems like spending money just for the sake of spending money. Even I could think of some small projects that could be better improvements to Schmitz that doesn’t include a random stairway. 

  • B June 15, 2021 (8:30 pm)

    Lately it sure seems like people who choose to live near public parks in the Alki area get real upset when it seems like other people want to use those public areas.

  • Kyle June 15, 2021 (8:34 pm)

    Maybe Parks could use the money and crew to fix the closed off playground at Westcrest Park instead. That clearly is a failed maintenance problem.

  • Ann H June 15, 2021 (8:48 pm)

    Will take just one small earthquake to twist the ground and ruin these new  concrete stairs. Probably would cost > $54,000 to repair them.But before that happens, will SPR crews regularly clear these stairs?  1) fallen debris (leaves and branches are slippery when wet, and moss grows quickly on steps that are in shade)  2) garbage littered on / next to the stairs (Starbucks plastic cups, lids & straws, soda and beer cans, glass liquor bottles, food wrappings, take-out containers 3) needles and other discarded paraphernalia, condoms, abandoned clothing, sleeping bags, trashed bikes, etc, etc, etc?  …. ? Or will that chore become yet another project to be adopted by a Boy Scout Troupe, an Eagle Scout, or a group of volunteers?

  • Amy June 15, 2021 (8:51 pm)

    Ran into similar neighborhood resistant for a new set of stairs off Sylvan Way leading to better access to public transportation. They were concerned of the type of people the stairs would bring into their neighborhood. 

  • Flivver June 15, 2021 (8:52 pm)

    AMD/Kevin/Ken. NImby??. We’ll remember that when we read about you complaining to the city about something the city does in YOUR ‘hood. 

    • Ice June 16, 2021 (7:47 am)

      The city has been unblocking an alley near my house to allow for foot traffic and I am extremely happy about it. Not everybody throws a tantrum anytime there is a small change to public space.

    • s June 16, 2021 (8:31 am)

      Heaven forbid I don’t get your support when I oppose the city making erosion control and safety improvements in my neighborhood.

    • AMoose2 June 16, 2021 (8:58 pm)

      Why would someone complain about the city improving their neighborhood? They recently rebuilt some stairs near to my house and the new stairs are much better than the old ones.I totally don’t understand the objections to this project at all.

  • onion June 15, 2021 (8:53 pm)

    Schmitz could use a few more entrance/exit options. I still can’t picture where the proposed stairs will be. A site plan/map would be helpful. My gut tells me the neighbors’ concerns are excessive, but I’ll withhold judgment for now.

    • WSB June 15, 2021 (10:01 pm)

      As noted in the last line, I requested the plans this morning but got a message at day’s end that they won’t be available until at least tomorrow. I provide a map link. You can follow that and use Google’s Street View option to get a pannable look at exactly where that is.

  • Tony June 15, 2021 (8:53 pm)

        I really would like to have stairs there.  This is a great idea!

  • KM June 15, 2021 (8:56 pm)

    No sidewalk there shouldn’t be a reason to not build stairs, it should be a reason to add a sidewalk (and still build the stairs).

  • Ted June 15, 2021 (8:56 pm)

    It is a bizarre thing to get upset about. We walk by here all the time and see people ridiculously (dangerously?) scrambling up the “goat path” farther west. It makes the street look crappy along with all the overgrowth. It seems like a staircase will give people a much clearer entrance into the park. It sounds lazy but clearly going all the way west just to loop back up into the park is causing people to short-circuit, so why not give them a better way in? NIMBY nonsense it sounds like.

  • Joe Z June 15, 2021 (9:05 pm)

    I have a hard time believing the neighbors wouldn’t want easier park access. Do the vocal detractors truly represent the neighborhood?

  • Morgan June 15, 2021 (9:06 pm)

    Or Lincoln park second playground been a few years can sometimes do opposite in inviting night time illicit activities….keeping a naturalized and private area dark may counter intuitively help address the neighbors understandable concerns. I like the idea of walking up and down to Alki and keeping to Olmsted vision as west seattle resident, but again. Prefer fixed playgrounds or finish what was started on California near Morgan junction.

  • aRF June 15, 2021 (9:16 pm)

    I don’t live near this project but I do use Schmitz Park, and I can’t see how this stairway is at all a priority. The lower entrance to the park is a stone’s throw away.

  • S June 15, 2021 (10:09 pm)

    Parks says there is a trail there now. It’s not safe and is damaging the slope. So they’re putting in a formal staircase to make it safe and protect the slope. I’m all for it and love that they’re improving Schmitz Park.

  • Brad June 15, 2021 (10:14 pm)

    This project seems like a waste of money to me. I don’t know why the city thinks building a staircase is necessary when there’s already a way connecting Schmitz Park to Alki. Sure it’ll make walking from Schmitz Park to Alki shorter, but only by a small amount. The other way is longer, but it’s easily accessible and it leads to an sidewalk. That money could go towards structures that actually need maintenance or to community based programs that need funding, like Southwest Youth and Family Services. At least these options will have a purpose; what the city is doing now has no purpose, other than to slap 50k on a staircase nobody asked for or needed and call it a day.

    • Adam June 16, 2021 (12:59 am)

      RE: “staircase nobody asked for”….see nearly all above and below comments 

  • Riah June 15, 2021 (11:08 pm)

    I take this path regularly, it is a classic “desire path” given that the nearby entrance comes from the other direction. Stairs seem like a great addition to me as the entrance to the park is not visible from this side, and more people may access it when visibility is increased. The public deserves to enjoy the oldest old growth forest in Seattle — they pay for its maintenance. Neighbors, remember, you don’t own public space. 

  • Waiting4Bridge June 15, 2021 (11:21 pm)

    So glad to see we all agree….beginning to think all politics is “Great Taste, Less Filling!”

  • M.B. June 16, 2021 (12:09 am)

    So the city of Seattle had to be sued to improve ADA access to sidewalks by putting in curb cuts, a project that is slated to take 18 years due to budget.. Only a small fraction of the city’s streets even have sidewalks, espbin more residential areas  But by all means, let’s have the Park’s depth bliw $54,000 on a set of stairs that do not equally benefit all people.

  • Steve June 16, 2021 (6:05 am)

    I’ve walked in that area many times. The proposed stairs would be a 30 second walk from the existing entrance.  I agree with the local residents. I suggest the money be spent on replanting the trees that were recently cut down.  Maybe do some landscaping. By the way, if you poured concrete everywhere people walked, the park would be 80% concrete.

  • Jennie June 16, 2021 (6:40 am)

    The turf rolls are a concern to me. Maybe they have already done something like that before, but is turf  just grass? This is an old growth forest and grass spreads and would overrun the diversity of the ecosystem on the forest floor. I don’t live right  here, but have used the regular path that connects down to the school and park. It seems to me they were already pretty connected in the Olmsted sense. You go from Schmitz down to school park and whale tail park and then you are  ONE block from the beach. I think the money and stairs should go to another park that could use the funds more. There are so many goat trails in Schmitz park you’d be putting in stairs all over the place to try and cut down on erosion.  People need to respect the park and stick to the trails that are there just like when you go hiking in the mountains.

  • Jon Wright June 16, 2021 (6:51 am)

    NIMBYs gonna NIMBY.

  • STEVE WINSTON June 16, 2021 (6:58 am)

    I walk stairs around West Seattle and all over the city using routes in the book “Seattle Stairway Walks” and other resources.  The stairs provide wonderful alternative to streets as access points to a variety of destinations.  There are two sets of stairs in my immediate neighborhood.  I don’t see the activities on other stairs these neighbors are predicting.  

  • anonyme June 16, 2021 (7:01 am)

    For those who actually read the article, neighbors insist there was no informal pathway that required cutting down trees and installing a concrete stairway.  If their claims are accurate as the photos seem to prove, then it does seem odd that Parks would choose such a project when there are so many other issues within the Parks system.   Schmitz may be under the purview of the Parks Dept., but it is a preserve, not a park in the usual sense.  The neighbor’s concerns seem entirely legitimate.  And having Parks blame the lack of communication on Covid is infuriatingly stupid, although much in keeping with the City of Seattle’s act now, ask later policy.

    • JohnW June 16, 2021 (10:08 am)

      Anonyme, it appears that you may need to actually read the article, the comments before yours and look at the pictures.  
      Doing so, you will notice that there was a casual path as confirmed by those comments and the last photo of the opened up full story by WSB shows that vey path.

      • anonyme June 17, 2021 (8:24 am)

        JohnW, I suggest you revisit both the article and the photo.  The “last photo” you reference is of an easel display, not a path.  That photo is second to last and is identified as a goat path down the street from where the alleged informal path and stair controversy is taking place.  What you call “selfishness” in regard to homeowners, I call community spirit and neighborhood activism.  No need to demonize homeowners.  If renters aren’t protesting, perhaps it’s because they don’t give a crap, as they are by definition transient and don’t have the same roots in the community.  Also, Schmitz does not need “improving” it needs preservation.  You don’t preserve an old-growth ecosystem by cutting down trees, laying sod,  installing concrete, increasing traffic, and providing connections to outside destinations.  It is a preserve, not a railway station.  I don’t believe for one second that 12 trees along the desired staircase just happened to be diseased and required removal.  The actions taken by Parks in this instance are inexcusable.

        • JohnW June 17, 2021 (7:04 pm)

          I do indeed stand by my correction of ‘anonyme’s’ claims of no photos and no casual path as commented by others.  The photo and the comments are proof.  It is a bit Trumpian to make any other claim. Those falsehoods simply cover the NIMBY take on this project and  slur the many Park users who do not have the million dollars to own a house with a back yard.  Yes renters, the new emerging majority.I agree that Parks does not follow the rules they are required to follow.  In would like to see the Parks address the ever-growing backlog of maintenance, which I think is atrocious.

  • JohnW June 16, 2021 (8:06 am)

    Absolutely classic case of Seattle NIMBYISM and entitlement of homeowners.  
    I say homeowners that are now in the minority of Seattle  as opposed to renters who do not display such selfishness.  
    This is also a miss-step of the Parks Dept in an alarming display of chutzpah.  
    Parks Dept. is required to follow the same regulations as the public  regarding Environmentally Critical Areas (ECAs).  
    But when they don’t, they are subject to the same complaint process as the public.  
    A formal complaint to Seattle Department of Design and Inspection (SDCI) may expose the Parks for their violations.

  • Tdan June 16, 2021 (8:15 am)

    There is no sidewalk at the bottom of Thistle stairs- which ends a block from Lincoln Park on a residential street- Not sure why that’s a concern for these stairs.

    • KATHRYN June 16, 2021 (8:33 am)

      I was thinking the same thing! The lack of a sidewalk in a residential area is definitely not a reason not to put in stairs. There are plenty of other stairs in Seattle without sidewalks at one end. I understand the concerns regarding crime, but living near a public park in Seattle will always come with that concern and is not a reason to forgo the planned improvements. I agree the neighbors should have had more of a heads up but the end result should be the same. The park is public space and living close to it is definitely a privilege, but that privilege shouldn’t grant the neighbors any more of a say in the use of or improvements to that public space than any other Seattle resident. 

  • This June 16, 2021 (11:47 am)

    Perhaps there was previously a more pronounced goat trail which prompted this project, but with the pandemic and school closures it was less treaded this past year, and now overgrown with the changing of season.

    Regardless, the option of a direct stair link in a community is generally an enhancement and convenience.

  • Just tell them what the real purpose is June 16, 2021 (11:57 am)

    Thank you West Seattle Blog for highlighting a well intended but poorly conceived, poorly communicated, and poorly executed plan from Seattle Parks.  Helping fight erosion by adding a stairs on a steep slope where people naturally travel is not a bad idea.  The alternative is putting up a fence to deter people from traveling there.  But, the photographic evidence seems to demonstrate that the perceived “informal path” at 57th and Stevens is so informal it is hard to see in comparison to the clear dirt path than the one down the block near the entrance to the paved boulevard (go back in time with Google Maps if you need more visual evidence).  If you want to add a stairs so that people can enjoy the street end and public utility easement at the intersection of 57th and Stevens, as well as provide another path between Stevens and the paved boulevard, then just say so.  Don’t hide it in the guise of improving an informal path that is so informal and overgrown that it has no visual evidence of frequent and regular use in comparison with the one down the block.

  • diverlaura June 16, 2021 (12:22 pm)

    I live directly adjacent to where they would put in these stairs.  I look forward to them being put in.  Yes, the ‘entry’ to the park is a minute or so away (depending on how sniffy your dog is) but here’s the thing, its a narrow street to get to it and lots of cars especially in the summer.  it would be great to be able to jus bypass all that and pop right up to the green space, and it makes sense to connect the green spaces.  I believe this is a part of the push back, because the neighborhood kind of feels that little alcove where the daylighted section of Schmitz creek ends is ‘ours’ and this would very clearly establish it as part of the larger park complex.   I have used the goat trails to get up to the park numerous times with my dog when I see lots of off leash dogs down by the community center and just didn’t want to deal with it.  Finally, with regards to ‘increased pedestrian traffic flow’, try living here for a couple years.  that back street is dark and sketchy.  Anything that brings foot traffic through the area in my opinion will improve the situation. the drug dealers are already here, a stairway isn’t going to cause them to show up.   So anyhow, there is another view from someone who actually LIVES right here, will used the stairway and will be directly impacted.  

  • Dragonfly June 16, 2021 (3:24 pm)

    This sounds very much like Parks making the decision to pull out the gardens at Dragonfly Pavilion and GARDENS. Neighbors found out by chance with days until the work was to begin – no communication at all. They had excuses for everything, acted like they were trying to work with us by coming out to meet with us. They said they would run some compromises past Aguirre, then just went forward with their plan. They are disingenuous stewards. 

  • Carol Wagener June 16, 2021 (7:04 pm)

    It’s amazing how many people are making these long comments who have no information relevant to this situation.  If anyone actually saw what the parks department was doing they’d realize how unnecessary, and what a ridiculous waste of money this particular set of steps is.

    • JohnW June 17, 2021 (8:35 am)

      A few of us commenting have read the full story and piqued by curiosity, I visited the site yesterday.  
      It appears the Parks is attempting to legitimize a shortcut caused by pedestrians.  
      The only other solution would be to erect a fence or barrier along the road.
      The issue of why Parks chose this minor transgressive path when our parks are veined with such illegal routes is perplexing.  
      Lincoln Park comes to mind where many unsafe routes vein the steep hillside.

  • This June 16, 2021 (8:37 pm)

    ‘who have no information relevant to this situation’

    We all just read a thorough news report on the matter.

    Maybe others just disagree with your negative reaction. Of all the things to be outraged about…. stairs? Maybe you can help better explain why this is such a negative thing?

  • JohnW June 17, 2021 (10:12 am)

    WSB reported the Parks’ reps as saying the budget was $54,000.  
    This appears suspiciously low for work complying with ECA regulations.  
    Nevertheless, the $54,000 quoted is nearly double the published allocation of $31,63

    Minor correction: The long fiberous rolls on site are not the staged sod for replanting grass, but are set to absorb and control silt and runoff from the site during construction. 
    Thanks for the reporting WSB.

    • WSB June 17, 2021 (10:27 am)

      $54,000 is what the Parks employees said at the meeting. As for the rolls, they were identified and pointed to in the course of the discussion; I walked the block afterward but did not peel one open to check.

      • JohnW June 17, 2021 (6:49 pm)

        Assuming this to be what the presser called “sod” was apparently my mistake.
        These jute coils are for construction run-off and not the rolls of sod that are staged elsewhere?

Sorry, comment time is over.