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canoeing in the arboretum
University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center,
Seattle, WA

A paddle at the Arboretum

8/27/2006 - My son Joseph asked me to meet him at the University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center on a perfect late summer afternoon. It was my birthday. His gift to me was a canoe trip around the Washington Park Arboretum.

Quiet water under the bridge

Renting a canoe

Canoe rentals are open to the public and staff members at the dock will help you get launched. The marshes and shallow water directly across the narrow channel from the boat launch are an ideal place for beginning canoeists to paddle and explore. The caveat is that you have to get there.

From the dock, I clambered toward seat at the stern thinking that if there weren't water in the bottom of the canoe I'd just kneel. We pushed off from the dock and went through the first couple of waves. Realizing that I would get a lot wetter if the canoe capsized, I slid into kneeling position.

We negotiated the wake of the boats that had recently passed, paddled under SR 520 bridge, and slid through the glasslike water under a now closed exchange off the bridge. It seemed as if we had passed through a portal to a tranquil other world. Despite the traffic noise from the bridge behind us, our senses were filled with the sights, scents, and sounds of a place teeming with wildlife and verdant growth.

Traffic stopped on SR 520 bridge

Traffic stopped on SR 520


Turtles and ducks at the Washington Park Arboretum

Turtle and ducks on a log

Another world
Turtles and ducks sunned themselves and lazily watched us. We tried to find the spot that would allow us to take a great picture without driving them into the water and away from us. Another cove afforded a similar opportunity with a Great Blue Heron.

Canoe at the Washington Park Arboretum

Paddle at the Washington Park Arboretum

We moved through a shady slough and out into the sun, through a wall of cattails and out to open water. Here Canada Geese floated past in twos and threes. We stayed followed the shore, noting the wooden paths that wound around the park emerged occasionally, fences ending in gates. They seemed to be used mostly to fish off the docks. I mused about how little of the arboretum I had actually explored on foot.
Our route traveled under the SR-520 again, passing between the bridge's supports. We had been out for almost two hours. I was beginning to get hungry and thirsty. We paddled back across the channel. This time it didn't seem as intimidating. At the dock we were met by staff who helped us manage the canoe. The feeling came back into my legs as we walked up to the activities center where we used the restroom and bought water at the vending machines.
Thoughts about the future
Throughout the trip, I thought about the impending expansion of the SR-520 bridge. The daily traffic and damage from a previous earthquake make the expansion necessary. It's impact on this lovely area is unavoidable, but it is not trivial. Minimizing it and restoring the area afterward are absolutely necessary. In the meantime, construction has not started and the canoes are still available. I'll make it a point to go again this year.
by Dianne Bengtson
photography by Dianne Bengtson

Be Aware:

Sun: Wear sunscreen and a hat or head cover.

Water safety rules apply: Life jackets are provided. Adjust for proper fit and wear.

Rough water: You have to paddle across waves from the wakes of larger boats traveling through the channel from to Lake Washington to Lake Union.


University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center (UWAC)



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