Located five miles northwest of downtown in the Magnolia District, the 535-acre Discovery Park (206/386-4236, www.ci.seattle.wa.us/parks) juts out into Puget Sound. In Discovery—Seattle’s largest city park—you'll discover an "urban wilderness" with a wild feeling that belies its location next to two million people. The park features a 2.8-mile loop trail through forest and meadow, with access to two miles of Puget Sound beaches, plus the half-mile interpretive Wolf Tree Nature Trail.
Discovery Park’s West Point is reputedly Seattle’s best bird-watching spot, with more than 150 kinds of birds, including frequent sightings of loons, grebes, cormorants, terns, and other marine birds.
Discovery Park is located on what was originally Fort Lawton, a defensive base established in the late 1890s to protect Puget Sound. It served mainly as a shipping center in the early 1900s; in World War II it was a vital processing base for more than a million troops en route to the Pacific—the second busiest point of embarkation on the West Coast. At its peak, the fort contained a small city’s worth of buildings, and the mess hall bragged that it could feed 12,000 troops in an hour. After World War II and the Korean War, the fort was declared surplus property and given to the city of Seattle.
In March 1970, 500 Native Americans invaded the grounds, claiming the old fort site as a cultural center. It took two battalions of Army troops and 119 arrests (including actress Jane Fonda) to quell the protest. Eventually, the city agreed to set aside 20 acres for what is now the Daybreak Star Arts and Cultural Center (206/285-4425). A small collection of art is inside, but the building is mainly used for Native American events.
The rest of Fort Lawton became Discovery Park in 1972. Quite a few of the fort’s structures remain, including more than a dozen from the earliest days. An interesting walking tour booklet detailing the fort and its history is available at the park’s visitors center (8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily). The city offers free 90-minute Saturday nature walks at 2 p.m., along with a variety of classes and special events.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition