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Seahurst Park was used by Native Americans for fishing and clam-gathering. Then came the white man, many of whom used the Homestead Act of 1862 to obtain land in Burien. The Act was intended to attract settlers to the west by providing them with land for homes and farms. But only a fraction of the land was settled by true homesteaders. The chief beneficiaries were speculators.
Three such false-homesteaders, enticed more by the timber than by a desire to own waterfront property or dig for clams, laid claim to the area in the 1860s. On May 15, 1869, A.F. Pope, W.C. Talbot, and Cyrus Walker purchased most of Seahurst Park. Walker was a lumber mill manager on the Kitsap Peninsula. William C. Talbot, of Maine, and his partner, Andrew J. Pope, built a steam sawmill at Port Gamble on Hood Canal. The mill operated for 142 years - longer than any other in the U.S. - from 1853 to 1995. Pope & Talbot was a major forest products enterprise in Western Washington throughout the 20th century. Pope & Talbot likely bought large tracts of timber close to tidewater - either for their own mills or to sell to others - such as their purchase in 1869 of Seahurst Park.
Seahurst Park was a popular picnic spot in the early 1900s. Charles Hughes was born in 1895 on his parents' farm near downtown Burien. After the berries were picked and the hay gathered in, his folks would "hitch old Dobbin to the spring wagon" and take the kids to the beach. "No one lived from Salmon Creek to Three Tree Point," so campsites were plentiful. They picked wild berries, dug clams, and caught fish from driftwood rafts. Jack Stokes, who moved to Seahurst from Seattle as a boy in 1914, fished down Stearns Creek where Seahurst Park is today.
In 1915, the Seahurst Land Company owned 200 acres from 16th SW to Puget Sound, north of SW 152nd St. The company's president was C.W. Keisel; the superintendent was a Mr. Harbaugh. This parcel contained 12 to 14 springs, many of them in Seahurst Park. Pumps, used to get the water into small tanks, were installed near SW 142nd St. and 21st Ave. SW.
World War Two brought a hundred new homes to the area served by the springs. This led to larger pumps and tanks, which were moved to SW 146th St. The water, tested once a month, was "always 100% pure." In 1947 there were 320 meters. Several of the springs, as well as the remains of a pumping station and pipes, can still be found in Seahurst Park.
In the early 1900s, a portion of the Park became the Fox family estate. There was a merry-go-round on the property. Robert Fox, one of the Fox children, eventually owned the Ford dealership on 146th and First Ave. S.
In the 1950s, Howie Gwinn and others planned to develop the Hurstwood community. Gwinn sculpted the project over a period of years out of land purchased from Pope & Talbot. At the last minute, King County Parks, through Commissioner Ed Munro, acquired Gwinn's property, plus the adjoining parcel, for a total of 2,000 feet of waterfront. Munro found the money to buy Seahurst Park by selling the Burien Fieldhouse site to Westside Federal Bank for a headquarters.
Seahurst Park, also known as Ed Munro Park after the state legislator who helped establish it, was established in 1975. In addition to acquiring Seahurst Park, Ed Munro helped improve other South End parks and playfields. Fred Metzler, son of White Center pioneers Sam and Lucretia Metzler, Highline Times publisher Jerry Robinson, Dottie Harper, Norm Ackley, and others also played key roles in obtaining Seahurst Park.
In 1962, a $2 million bond proposal passed by the King County Commissioners included funds for land acquisition of Ed Munro Seahurst Park. Ed Munro served as a King County Commissioner from 1958 until 1969. In 1968, a 23-acre addition to Seahurst Park, including 235 feet of waterfront, was made possible when King County voters approved Proposition 6, a Forward Thrust Parks and Recreation bond. $1.125 million was allotted for the addition: $272,000 for facilities improvements and $166,000 for boat-launching ramps (which were never built).
By 1967, the Highline School District was interested in establishing a marine vocational training program at Seahurst Park. Leading this effort were superintendent Carl Jensen; Dr. Robert Sealey, assistant superintendent; Dr. Ben Yormark, the district’s director of Vocational Education; Hugh Albrecht, site director; and Chuck Hardy, science coordinator for the district.
An advisory committee of representatives from marine-related businesses, government agencies, and education was formed in 1968. Studies indicated opportunities for trained employees. It was decided to offer a program for high school seniors as an extension of the new Occupational Skills Center, a cooperative venture of the Federal Way, South Central, and Highline School Districts.
A waterfront site on Puget Sound was needed for the marine program to be effective. This was aided by existing relationships between the Highline School District and King County: a series of cooperative ventures sharing adjacent school and park sites. A request for a small tract in the newly acquired and not fully developed Seahurst Park was negotiated, with certain stipulations to protect public use - such as portholes for viewing aquaria.
By April 1968, the new maritime program had secured approval and Rice employed as on-site instructor. A curriculum was developed and materials and equipment ordered for a September start. A one-year lease was first arranged for use of the former Fox guest house. Two half-day classes of 15 students each made up the first year’s enrollment. Students came from high schools within the three cooperating districts. An all-weather trail from the parking lot was built, equipment unpacked and installed, and aquaria and pipelines built.
King County, meanwhile, proceeded with plans to develop Seahurst Park and raze the guest house used by the maritime program. A 99-year lease was therefore arranged for an adjacent lot on which to build a new lab building. Architect Ralph Burkhart worked with staff to design a new Marine Technology Lab. Construction contracts were coordinated with the new OSC facility being built near SeaTac airport.
Onsite instructor and director Lauren Rice guided the enterprise through its various stages for 23 years, supported by Hugh Albrecht from 1968 until his retirement in 1991. While administered by Highline District personnel, this program, like OSC, was funded and supported by South Central and Federal Way School Districts as well.
The new Marine Technology Lab - 5,000 square feet of instructional space and storage area on two floor levels - was occupied in 1972. A unique feature was the open aquarium and hatchery water systems. The County also agreed to build a salmon ladder and concrete-lined holding and rearing pond in the adjacent small stream.
The Marine Tech program has prepared students for jobs and career advancement in marine-related occupations. Marine Tech grads work all over the world for municipalities, state Departments of Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Navy, EPA, and private companies.
With the new facility and streamwater system, the salmon hatchery program has gradually increased production. Up to 300 three-year-old coho salmon return each fall to the Marine Tech ladder and holding pond, as a result of the prior release of up to 10,000 year-and-a-half-old smolts.
King County's Forward Thrust program of the late 1960s included plans for increased development of Seahurst Park, including an 8-lane boat launching ramp, expanded parking lot, seawall, breakwater and raised picnic areas. Environmentalists, however, were concerned about the impact of these projects. In December 1970, King County Executive John Spellman appointed an ecology team of University of Washington faculty to conduct a four-month review of the ecological effects of development. Among the team's findings were that the boat ramp be scaled down, the parking lot shortened, the sea wall reduced, and the breakwater replaced with a more subtle, offshore groin.
Seahurst Park - Burien's crown jewel - contains many natural features such as forests, streams, wetlands, and shoreline. The Park also includes miles of trails and recreational structures. Volunteer naturalists visit regularly to answer questions about marine plants and animals. With its miles of wooded trails and sparkling beaches, Seahurst Park is a delightful place to go walking. Originally, however, plans called for a huge parking lot - which would have wiped out most of the driftwood-strewn beach - for over a hundred boat trailers, and a launching facility with several lanes. This plan was successfully opposed by neighbors, the Sierra Club, and the League of Women Voters. After being sued, King County changed the plans to create the family recreation facility that it is today.
Seahurst Park was a King County park until 1993, when ownership and management were transitioned to the new city of Burien, which was to have taken full control in 1997. But Seahurst Park was removed from the transition while differences were ironed out. The City viewed the Park as regional, which would require continued County maintenance, while the County viewed it as a community park.
The Seahurst Park beach is about 2,000 feet long. The upper beach has been stabilized with a seawall for most of its length. The upper beach was modified in the 1990s by adding native vegetation, logs, and rip-rap to restore a natural appearance and limit access to the beach.
In recent years, local citizens, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the city of Burien have helped revive the Park's delicate forest cycle. The NRCS provided the City with financial and technical aid through the Natural Resources Stewardship Network for the Seahurst Park Reforestation Project, a multi-year effort to plant seedlings of native trees to return natural succession to the forest.
Logging and other activities altered the natural life cycle of the trees in the Park. Alder and big leaf maple dominate, rather than fir, hemlock, and cedar. To help nature reach the normal succession of these species, the Burien Parks Department developed the Seahurst Park Reforestation Project. Local groups and Adopt-A-Park volunteers also clear away brush and plant native trees. The National Tree Trust and Puget Sound Energy provide additional financial help.
In 2004, the Seahurst Park shoreline restoration project began. This was the first effort to be funded under the Puget Sound and Adjacent Waters Restoration program, which received its first congressional appropriation in 2003. Federal funding covered 80% of the project's $1.5 million cost.
The project aimed to replace a 1,000-foot section of seawall with a more gradual and natural slope, restoring the sandy, small-gravel beach needed by smelt and other forage fish to grow and become a key food source for salmon. The Army Corps of Engineers used a barge to transport the dismantled seawall and bring in the materials needed to restore the shoreline. On December 7, 2004 a kickoff ceremony included the symbolic release of marine life to represent the beach's rejuvenation.
Since 1972, when the seawall was built, much has been learned about shoreline and habitat protection. As waves eroded the wall, its 10-pound rocks broke apart on the beach, damaging spawning conditions for forage fish. Removing the seawall and grading the shoreline also improved a key migratory corridor for juvenile chinook salmon. The Army Corps planned to bring in 15,000 tons of sand and gravel to supplement and regrade the beach, helping to replenish eelgrass and other critical habitat for the salmon food chain.
As of 2006, the first phase was well underway, including removal of the south seawall, beach restoration, and marine riparian plantings. In 2002, Burien had adopted the Seahurst Park Master Plan, which called for over $11 million in renovation and restoration to return the park to its originally intended use, and to reverse environmental degradation.
In 2004, a science education program, Citizen Science, was brought to Seahurst Park. Trained high school and Marine Tech students collect long-term scientific data on nearshore habitat and wildlife. The project bridges the gap between the need for habitat protection and public involvement in wildlife management. These citizen scientists - local high school students and teachers, assisted by trained adult volunteers - collected data on selected species of marine flora and fauna, and on beach characteristics such as slope, substrate, and habitat type; conducted biodiversity surveys of over 80 species of invertebrates, fish, seaweeds, and eelgrass; and established a system of managing and sharing data with other government and scientific entities.