If you take Seattle’s Greenwood Avenue North almost all the way to its upper end, there’s a turn down towards the Puget Sound—its dark grey waters somewhat in the distance, out to the left. You take the turn and cruise past Shoreline Community College, then the expansive Shoreview Park before arriving at Hidden Lake, off to the right.

You can barely tell the lake’s there, past dense trees. That’s probably for good reason, as it’s pretty grody—Boeing Creek was artificially dammed there, and stormwater runoff and sediment fill the lakebed.

Anyway, off to the left is 166th Avenue NW. At the end is Innis Arden Beach Trail—as pleasant an urban trail as you will find.

It winds its way along the right side of the ravine carved by Boeing Creek, eons before it shared a name with the company that makes planes and bombs. The path is superbly well-maintained given the surroundings, naturally precluded to erosion, mud pits and various debris.

It winds it’s way down the ravine a little less than a mile before arriving at the most wonderful gateway to the shore of the sound. Boeing Creek trickles to the left, splitting a low railroad underpass with a walkway that, in a high tide, has saltwater waves lap their way up it.

In normal and low tides, you stroll along the stream and, with it, arrive at the Puget Sound—with, on either side of you, artifacts of whatever used to be at the beach. There are a few 20-foot tall pylons at a point to your left and down 60 yards to the right, if you look closely, a line of rocks that fit together just-so to form a small breakwater.

It’s as pleasant a secret beach you will find in Seattle, maybe my favorite single locale in the area—and I’ve biked a lot of it.

The issue is, back at the top of that trail, at the end of NW 166th Ave NW—the best, but not only way to access this beach—is a gate. Part of a 10-foot tall fence, it’s locked from the inside and out. If you wanted to find your way around it, perhaps you could.

But this specific place—the trail, plus acres and acres on either side of the creek—is not for you.

It’s for paying members of the Innis Arden Neighborhood Community. Or, if you live in the gated-off Highlands community surrounding Seattle Golf Club, there’s a nice trail down for you on the other side of said ravine.

For the public, there’s a separate trail to the north. It’s especially muddy, pools of standing water line parts of the trail, an area up top strewn with garbage. When you get to the bottom of that trail—technically the end of that trail—you can cross over railroad tracks to get to the sound. If the tide isn’t low enough, you’d need to walk along the double-set of tracks to access the beach.

That’s the trail for you. For us.

I understand how all this works—how it’s always worked in certain places. But there’s something about a fenced and gated park. Something just—blegh.

In my corner of Seattle, I’ve come across this once before, just up in Blue Ridge. It happened in the same way it did at Innis Arden. I looked for a big blotch of green on Google Maps, ideally on the water, and I biked to it.

I could be better at checking details first.

Photo by Mark Michaelis

If you know the history of these neighborhoods, of Seattle, you probably know where I’m going. My post title doesn’t hurt either.

The background on these neighborhoods mentioned—The Highlands, Innis Arden, Blue Ridge—run parallel. The latter two there are on land bought and subdivided in the 1930s and 1940s by William Boeing, who, in addition to being the founder of the company we know today, resided in The Highlands.

Innis Arden, like Blue Ridge and The Highlands and many other Seattle neighborhoods, was built to be a restrictive place. That was the sell. And within that was a racist bylaw that stood on the books for decades.

Here’s that Innis Arden covenant, as featured in the brochure. Credit to the University of Washington’s Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project for this research.

“No property in said addition shall at any time be sold, conveyed, rented, or leased in whole or in part to any person or persons not of the White or Caucasian race. No person other than one of the White or Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy any property in said addition or portion thereof or building thereon except a domestic servant actually employed by a person of the White or Caucasian race where the latter is an occupant of such property. “

Try to guess when this clause was explicitly struck from the Innis Arden’s bylaws.

I’ll give you a second.

Not when it was no longer abided by.

Or when it became illegal through state and federal law.

But when it was actually literally textually removed.

If you get it within five years, you’ve done well.

Because it was 2006.

Two thousand. And six.

After discriminating on the basis of race became illegal in the late-60s, with the Civil Rights Act and other more local legislation, the Association added “invalidated item” next to this bylaw—which homeowners signed their names under for several decades longer.

To change the bylaws required notarized signatures by two-thirds of the 360 homeowners in Innis Arden and, as of 2005, only 122 had signed.

Eventually the state got involved and empowered the Board of Directors to put it to a vote among themselves and the language was stricken.

Wonder how many of the 238 homeowners who didn’t sign still own homes there. Probably a decent amount, huh?

Some readers here may, logically, jump to “Wow, you’re gonna call them racist because you’re not allowed on the trail they pay to maintain?”

Which—not quite.

But there’s something cringy, particularly divisive, especially restrictive about a private park. More than a pool or a tennis court or a golf course or a clubhouse, a gated park most feels like a vestige of a bygone era. A worse era.

Locking this space is locking off access—to the forest, to the stream, to the sound. To a place that represents some of the finer parts of existence.

You can take a separate trail. A longer trail. A grosser trail.

But this one’s for us.

I acknowledge this now sounds like I’m railing against most or all private property.

Here’s the kicker, though.

With communities like Innis Arden and Blue Ridge and so many others across not only Seattle, but the country, a bunch of people got together and decided, hey, why don’t we team up on this?

We’ll give up just a little bit of the money we make but, when it’s pooled together, it’s actually a lot. Then we’ll spend it on a bunch of good stuff we like, stuff we can all objectively agree is good.

Safe roads. Sidewalks. Beautiful parks. A wonderful wide-open nature preserve with multiple well-maintained trails down to the shores of the Puget Sound.

And in these wealthy enclaves, places where the most well-to-do people in the country live, they fucking go for it. They are down.

We all chip in, we invest in our surroundings, and everyone is better for it.

Just, you know, so long as everyone isn’t better for it.

We seeing the issue here?


The end of the title up top is the whole point.

We know what’s good—and all of us, or at least most of us, want the same thing. But we have to want it for other people, too.

There’s a reason there aren’t loud-ass four-, five- or six-lane roads running through the nicest neighborhoods in Seattle.

I walk up to Olympic Manor and, all of a sudden, there are sidewalks again—unlike almost everywhere else north of 85th, including my neighborhood. There are curved roads, only a couple ways in and, somewhat hilariously (when you remember their presence), there are little mini unmarked speed bumps clearly from forever ago. Kids can walk to school—easily.

We all want nice things. And even the most well-off among us understand you achieve that by teaming up.

I wish I had some tighter point to this, a better thesis or actionable observation, but I do not. All I know is—this is weird. And hypocritical. And bad.

And, locked parks suck.

Photo of Colin O'Keefe Colin O'Keefe

As Publisher at LexBlog, Colin leads the Publishing team and guides LexBlog clients and community members on blogging digital publishing strategy. A professionally-trained journalist, he’s applied the trade by helping keep LexBlog at the forefront of blogging and digital media trends for more…

As Publisher at LexBlog, Colin leads the Publishing team and guides LexBlog clients and community members on blogging digital publishing strategy. A professionally-trained journalist, he’s applied the trade by helping keep LexBlog at the forefront of blogging and digital media trends for more than a decade—split up by a four-year stint helping lead the Seattle Mariners’ digital marketing efforts. He’s a fan of those M’s, the Green Bay Packers, Seattle craft beer, pinball, jogging and ebikes.