Mayor Bans Cross-Country Training in Lower Woodland Park Due to Encampment

August 21, 2021 9:48am

Cross-country youth coaches citywide are getting their fall permit requests denied to train in Lower Woodland Park, a favorite training ground due to its varied terrain offering hills, trails, and fields. Today, as in parks throughout Seattle, those trails are being camped on and around, particularly in the upper area of the park, with large camps north of the 50th Street entrance and around the picnic shelters above the Off-Leash area.

A pre-pandemic cross-country meet in Lower Woodland, Oct. 2019
from, Maya Quinanola

“They’re not issuing any permits for usage there,” Corey Batten, one of the head coaches for the Rain City Flyers, told KOMO news.

The Project Seattle team reached out to the parks department and mayor’s office, reports KOMO, and was told the permit denials were “due to concerns around the current conditions at Woodland Park, including reports from our grounds crews of encampments blocking some trails.”

Writing in the Seattle Times, Danny Westneat notes in a column today: “By Seattle parks standards, it’s a fairly routine scene, and on a recent day some parkgoers tossed Frisbees and walked dogs around the tents. But there are parts of the running course now where kids would be effectively racing through a homeless encampment, within feet of tents, piles of debris, and, in one spot, electrical extension cords crisscrossing the trail.

The Rain City Stampede, an October meet held in Lower Woodland Park for 30 years, will not run there this year.

According to KOMO, several thousands of young athletes are affected, including over a dozen schools as well as private running clubs.

Coaches are scrambling to find other venues for training and races, like Magnuson, Lincoln, and Genessee Parks, but they cannot accommodate as many runners, nor offer the same training challenges, KOMO reports.

The tension has been building for years between a growing need for helping and housing the un-housed, and the use of parks as safe, healthy natural refuges, but never more so than since the pandemic, which has seen an unprecedented expansion of tents and RVs across the city. As KIRO-TV reported in May, the tension goes both ways – incidents of crime, reports of violence, and backlash harassment against the homeless are all on the rise.

Seattle Parks and Recreation’s web page for Woodland Park still reads:

East of Aurora, just south of Green Lake Park, the park is an ideal spot for picnics with reservable picnic areas, barbecues, woods, pleasant grassy hills and pathways. It is also one of the city’s most active hubs for sports and recreation….

Let’s find a way to get back there together.

A picnic shelter transformed. Image, Erika Shultz for the Seattle Times