The O.O. Denny Park Story

The following essay was written for O.O. Denny Park Community Pride Day, September 24, 1995, by Debbie Dimitri and Ellen Haas. .  It was read again at the DCNA Picnic in September 2009.

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A long, long time ago, O.O. Denny Park was not as it is.

Three million years ago, we’d all have been swimming in the middle of a huge inland sea. It would be balmy, and we’d be surrounded by balmy loving creatures and our balmy loving trees. But after awhile we would have felt the cold come in. Our familiar creatures would have migrated south and the trees died. The Great Ice would have slowly muscled its way toward us like a giant slug, plowing out the cavity we stand in and then sitting on us with a weight made of mild high solid ice.

Then, after a very long time, the Great Ice halted. Life grew warmer. The slug retreated and turned into a claw, gouging out Lake Washington and its steep slopes.

By 11,000 years ago, Holmes Point would have become, as it is: A soft curve on the Northeast shore of a long glacial lake, its bottom clay, its hills sand, and mantling its top, hardpan. This area would actually have been a mountain island in the lake until what we call the Juanita valley dried.

Over the next long time, rain, streams, and time invited the trees back, along with their birds and animals, and the salmon clan. The cedars came up from the South, and the fir and hemlock came in from East and West. They grew big. The whole land wad massively forested and the winters were cold and wet. Under the trees the berry and the mushroom thrived.

Up until the last hundred years, we were an extraordinary temperate rain forest, peopled by Coast Salish native, with villages near the big river outlets and foraging camps at the mouths of Juanita and Denny Creek.

More quickly than the Great Ice, the Undisturbed Wilderness halted, when the Denny family and their friends decided to settle Seattle in the 1850s. We out here in the Pacific Northwest, were the end of the American frontier, so our forefathers were a zealous lot of nature tamers. First, they took out the trees leaving acres and acres of smoldering stumps, then they took down the mountains near Eliott Bay leaving carved hills and a landfill waterfront, and then they shipped their equipment across Lake Washington and started in on us.

Then in the year 1900, Orion Orvil Denny, the first white boy born in Seattle, bought this land as a country estate and named it Kla-Ha-nie— meaning “the Great Outdoors”  in  Chinook (variously also, “outside” or  “away from”). He was a marine engineer, “with a love of the water.”  To get away from it all in Seattle, Denny and his wife had to steam in their palatial yacht all the way down through the Duwamish and Black rivers and all the way up Lake Washington. They probably docked on the edge of Holmes Point Drive.

How, you ask, did they get their boat up there? In August, 1916, the Denny’s could have stood on a lapping shoreline about where the road is. Three months later, having watched the lake level recede steadily one and a half inches a day for three months until it was nine feet lower, they would have looked across slimy, rotting lake flats to the new shorelines as it is today.

But soon, the stream carved a new bed, and the cottonwoods sprang up, and the Denny’s willed their 40 acres to the City of Seattle to be a public park whose aim was to provide city children “almost forgotten experience in the green forest.”

By now, in the 1930s, Seattle was booming and Kirkland was growing, and Bellevue and Woodinville were hot travel corridors, while little O.O. Denny Park and the whole of Finn Hill languished unnoticed, and relatively undisturbed. Its settler logged piecemeal and picked berries. Our area was on the way to nowhere important;

we were a jut,

not a bay,

lousy for docking;

we were really hilly and hard to get around in.

So the last frontier mentality was detoured by our inaccessibility, and Homes Point got left alone.

In the 30s, O.O. Denny Park was a functioning camp with a horse named Denver.

In the 60s, neighbors organized DNR and the county to acquire Big Finn Park.

In the 70s Bishop O’Dea’s private acquisition of St. Edwards was passed through the Catholic Diocese to Washington State Parks for stewardship.

If you look down at the 655 acre 3-park area on an aerial map, you see the Holmes Point area is the greenest part of the urban area in the biggest city in the greenest state in the richest country in the world. We’ve been protected because we were out of the way, away from it all, Kla-Ha-Nie. But now we’re in the way, in the middle of an urban splurge, and our green forest for children is Endangered.

We have a unique resource to protect and a role to model.

The Denny Creek Neighborhood Alliance’s vision is to again see deer grazing this park. We are a large enough tract of liveable habitat to sustain a small population of deer along with our resident coyotes and eagles. We have a clean enough stream to be a little hatchery for coho. We are arguably the biggest, healthiest wildlife habitat in all of Lake Washington.

We invite you first of all to enjoy these connected parks and to join us in educating ourselves and our children how to treat our land and wildlife as our oldest ancestors would have like us to.  The traditional Mohawks believe that “the children of the future generations will be formed from the same earth that we walk on in our daily lives. Therefore, we must walk softly and with great care so as not to harm the faces of the children to whom we will someday be ancestors.”

If you are interested in helping us out, please sign up. We definitely have things to do.

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