Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Some Yesler Swamp And Montlake Fill History

The Friends of Yesler Swamp has published a variety of posts regarding the history of Yesler Swamp located in Laurelhurst, including history of the area from settlement, sawmill, town of Yesler, historic photos, videos, source notes and more, on their website.

Friends of Yesler Swamp and the UW Botanic Gardens have been working together for over a decade to restore the native plants of Yesler Swamp, located near the Center for Urban Horticulture and bordered by NE 41st Street and Surber Drive, as well as construct a handicapped-accessible natural wetland trail, which also serves to protect and conserve swamp wildlife and minimize human impact on the wetlands.  The  boardwalk was completed on October 16th of last year with a celebration.
The Seattle City Council approved a Department of Neighborhoods Matching Fund award of $88,887 to restore Yesler Swamp and help with the cost of construction of the boardwalk.
And the King Conservation District provided a $31,940 grant for construction of a Viewing Platform and more. 

Friends of Yesler Swamp said on their website that the trail "offers views of the wetlands, the beaver lodge and the lagoon, while protecting wildlife by directing human foot traffic away from these sensitive areas.  

Here is one of Friends of Yesler Swamp's posts:on the history of the area: 


In 1946, to accommodate the large influx of soldiers returning from World War II and their families, the University built married student housing west of Yesler Swamp.[54]

Kroll’s Map c. 1946
The housing complex was known as Union Bay Village. The road behind Union Bay Village survives today in the remains of the circular asphalt drive south of the Center for Urban Horticulture. The upland portion of Yesler Swamp was planted in “victory gardens,” which, along with the housing, can be seen in a 1949 aerial view.
Martin Rodbell, a graduate student in the early 1950’s, recalls living in the married student quarters:
We lived in Union Bay Village, which was a bunch old Army barracks at the time, for $32 a month. We were all in the same boat, beginning to have families… We were all poor, but it was a great life.[55]
A short film showing married student life in Union Bay Village around 1948 is still available in the University archives.
Photo courtesy of Kern Ewing

By the early 1960’s, Union Bay Village was still used for student housing, but no sign of the “victory gardens.” The upland part of Yesler Swamp was simply described as “scrub.”[56]


In 1933, people began dumping trash in the Union Bay marsh. Later, the city began using the area as a garbage dump and landfill. The fill material was household garbage, rubbish, ashes, stumps, lumber and rubble. Some 11 million cubic yards of trash, including debris from the construction of the I-5 freeway, were deposited on the marsh.[57]
In the end, up to 40 feet (12.2 meters) of garbage and debris were dumped on the marsh.[58]
The idea was to “reclaim” the swamp land for building or other useful purposes. Walter L. Dunn, a professor of engineering at the University, conducted a study in 1966. He noted:
When the work of recovery by means of refuse began in 1933, the swamp generally had the consistency of thick sludge, much of it over 60 feet deep. It has been built into a usable part of the campus.[59]

“Bulldozer at Montlake Landfill, University of Washington, August 17, 1958,” University of Washington Libraries Special Collections UW19075
Rubbish was burned on the fill until 1954, when the practice was stopped due to citizen protests. Closure of the landfill was begun in 1965 and was completed in 1971.
Not everyone favored filling the swampland with garbage. In 1951, UW Professors Higman and Larrison published their evocative journal of their visits to the swamp, Union Bay: The Life of a City MarshThey wrote:
It is a unique place, this marsh. Man, by building the ship canal, lowered the water of the bay until its margins became a series of exposed flats. Man is therefore responsible for the marsh. If the present trend continues, man, by continued filling, drainage, and building, will some day destroy it.[60]
Fortunately, the “useable part of the campus” — the part of the marsh that was filled in by rubbish for over 30 years — did not extend as far as the east basin.Yesler Swamp, once again, was spared.


Following closure of the landfill, the University began planning for the future of the area. Fortunately, the Washington legislature in 1971 enacted the Shoreline Management Act, whose purpose was both to preserve the natural character of the shorelines of our state as well as to increase public access to the shores.[61]
The University approved a master plan for the former landfill in 1974, designating the marshland around Yesler Swamp as “unmanaged wildlife.” The swamp at that time featured red alders, willow, a few cottonwoods and “thickets of Himalayan blackberry.”[62] In January 1978, the University decided to demolish Union Bay Village and move married student housing to other locations.[63] The natural area would instead be devoted to research and teaching. [64]
In 1993, the UW undertook a plan for the future of the Union Bay shoreline. A committee, which included Kern Ewing, was charged with preparing a management plan. The emphasis was on “the importance of preserving this freshwater wetland as a public heritage and . . . increasing concern on the part of the University faculty and students that this rare nearby habitat be available intact for future study and teaching.”[65]
The planners agreed that the entire landfill over the deep, spongy peat deposits of Union Bay was unsuitable for construction of buildings. Instead, the natural area should be reserved for teaching, wildlife habitat and recreation. A wetland study at the time characterized much of the area as “wetland.”[66] All of area encompassing Yesler Swamp was designated as open space.[67] Specifically, the marsh to the west of Yesler Swamp was designated as a Conservancy Preservation Shoreline area.[68]
The planners generally recommended removing invasive non-native plants and animals, adding native plants, maximizing biodiversity, and controlling human impacts.[69] The area would come to be known as the Union Bay Natural Area.

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