waskington state lake images
WATERLINE - February, 2021

The journey to revitalizing Rainier Beach’s Be’er Sheva Park

by Ashley R. Townes, Fisheries Ecologist, University of Washington’s School of Aquatic Fishery Sciences, and Member, Rainier Beach Community and Link to Lake Open Space Steering Committee

Where’s the beach?

On a recent episode of the popular television game show, Family Feud, “the beach” was one of the top answers to the question, “What does a tourist want to see when visiting California?” Interestingly enough, the answer, “Where’s the beach?” became a neighborhood slogan when posed by Rainier Beach-area residents as part of the 2012 Rainier Beach Neighborhood Plan Update (RBNP). This RBNP initiative sought to have a beach at Be’er Sheva Park and its adjacent waterfront.

Nestled between an urban farm and a boat launch, overlooking Lake Washington, and despite its size comparable to other popular Seattle-area parks, Be’er Sheva Park is significantly underused by local residents. This is primarily due to the lack of amenities like park furnishings, benches, sufficient lighting, signage, etc. In fact, a recent survey confirmed that many Rainier Beach residents were not even aware of the park (Be’er Sheva Park Improvement: Schematic Design Report, 2018).

Be’er Sheva Park Lake Access Improvements Project: A community-driven and community-centered approach

Rainier Beach is a racially diverse neighborhood with Black/African American households making up 31%, Asians 33%, and Latinx 14% (Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, 2019). In this South Seattle community, there is a need to preserve and enhance existing green and blue areas. The Rainier Beach Link to Lake Open Space Steering Committee (RBL2L) hopes that a renovated and revitalized park will provide outdoor spaces for the young and young-at-heart to socialize and enjoy outdoor community social events, promote health and wellness, and increase engagement with the natural environment.

To address the environmental inequities around the Rainier Beach neighborhood, a community-driven and community-centered approach was needed to both support and secure the Rainier Beach community’s leadership as a full partner in determining how to enhance their local environment. Thus, RBL2L was formed in 2015.

The collective vision of the RBL2L Committee was to:

  • Comprise the RBL2L committee of dedicated local community members and environmental advocates from the community’s wide range of backgrounds and expertise;
  • Collect and integrate community input into the design of the project to increase inclusivity, diversity, and belongingness, and build trust among the community;
  • Have local residents lead and guide each step of the project process to promote community-owned solutions; and
  • Make recommendations for both enhancing Be’er Sheva Park and creating a lively, safe, and beautiful walking corridor from Rainier Beach light rail station to the Lake Washington waterfront.

The 2018 Community Design Party was held at the Somali Community Center.

The work of the Rainier Beach Link to Lake Open Space Steering Committee

In 2017, the City of Seattle’s Neighborhood Matching Fund, with additional funding from the Department of Neighborhoods, helped RBL2L lay the groundwork for planning and creating a neighborhood-based schematic design for improvements at Be’er Sheva Park.

Community outreach and engagement in Rainier Beach were critical to shaping the project

In 2018, during phase I of the project, RBL2L first set out to reach local community members through multiple grassroots efforts including community social events, public meetings, and social media. RBL2L worked in partnership with several other community and city organizations and entities, including the Seattle Parks Foundation, City of Seattle, Life Enrichment Group, Rainier Beach Action Coalition, and other groups to conduct in-depth interviews and set up open-dialogue sessions with members of the community. Qualitative surveys and questionnaires were used in the study and RBL2L members held outdoor events to interact with Rainier Beach residents. Committee partners distributed and posted postcards and flyers around the Rainier Beach neighborhood to increase awareness of the plans for the park and the need for community participation in the project’s design. In addition, the Committee held a charrette to facilitate more interactive decision-making and a collaborative project design.

These efforts helped RBL2L learn and better understand the community’s initial concerns and thoughts about the park. Participants shared their connection to the park and how they currently use the lake. The community’s testimony, feedback, and ideas were RBL2L’s primary guide and were instrumental in ensuring that the schematic design reflected community advocacy for park upgrades such as greater shoreline access, walkways with lights, interpretive signage, and community art installations. 

Be’er Sheva Park’s site plan shows the scope of proposed improvements.

Enhancements will restore salmon habitat in Mapes Creek

As an enhancement to the overall Rainier Beach Park Initiative and to restore salmon habitat at the southern end of Lake Washington, in December 2019 RBL2L members William Pickard and Ashley R. Townes, and RBL2L Project Manager George Lee submitted a King County grant proposal to improve the shoreline and aquatic landscape at the park. The grant proposed to decrease invasive plant species, toxic runoff and predation and significantly enhance the amount of optimal shoreline, estuary substrate and lakeshore rearing habitat, and to add diverse upland riparian vegetation. In spring 2020, the group was awarded $215,000 to rehabilitate and enlarge what remains of the lake-shoreline aquatic habitat and migration corridor at Be’er Sheva Park.

During the summer of 2020, to garner more financial support for the restoration, RBL2L conducted on-site tours with politicians including Washington State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Rebecca Saldana, Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, and City Councilmember Tammy Morales. As a longtime supporter of Rainier Beach, Tammy Morales sponsored a budget amendment providing $250,000 for the project.

Be’er Sheva Park’s restored shoreline along Lake Washington is just one part of the project.

A call to action—you can help!

The RBL2L committee continues to advocate for the Rainier Beach community; and while RBL2L has made great strides in securing some funds for this local community project, additional funding is needed to reach the full $2 million required for project completion.

We welcome your involvement in our ongoing fundraising efforts. For further information on how to join our dynamic team, please contact rblinktolake@gmail.com. If your organization matches donations, please visit our website at www.rainierbeachlinktolake.org to donate.

RBL2L team members have spent many hours on the project.