An Urban, Suburban Trek in Bellevue

Written and Photographed by Carrie Krueger, Director of Marketing, The Nature Conservancy in Washington

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Our state- and our world – are becoming increasingly urban.  For some of us, that means that what was once a rural suburb is now a bustling city filled with homes and high rises. Yet as we grow, it’s vital we keep a strong connection to nature including wildlife corridors, water retention areas and places we can go for peace and solace.

Bellevue has gone from sleepy bedroom community to hub of commerce and industry. But its string of pearls is a connected series of parks allowing us to travel from Lake Sammamish to Lake Washington through forests, wetlands, farms and gardens.

Most recently, I began this trek at Weowna Park on the shores of Lake Sammamish. In the crisp morning air, we climbed through lush, mossy forests, across streams, occasionally pausing to look back at the lake below.  We emerged into a residential area and wandered through lovely neighborhoods, past the Lake Hills Park.

Phantom Lake and the surrounding wetlands were teeming with birds, and as we made our way through the Lake Hills greenbelt, many walkers carried binoculars. The meandering greenbelt features towering trees, wetlands and even agriculture in the form of blueberry farms where signs of a tasty harvest next summer are just beginning.  At the northern end of the greenbelt is beautiful Larson Lake – so peaceful though thoroughfare traffic, shopping and other signs of urban life are close by.

Following the trail behind and around Sammamish High School, we were again reminded that we are in the middle of a burgeoning city where the already large high school is being expanded to accommodate growth.  But just beyond, we were plunged back into nature, joining the powerline trail and then the forest behind Kelsey Creek Farm. In the creek, salmon still spawn and the surrounding wetlands hold and filter water. In the middle, farm animals are a draw for kids – and their parents.

Just three blocks of neighborhood walking took us to the rich forest east of Wilberton Park. Ballfields and a playground on the other side connected us to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens. Here there is much to see in the form of immaculate, groomed gardens but also a wild canyon experience complete with a suspension bridge.

From the serenity of the gardens, we experienced the most urban and perhaps least enjoyable part of the trek – a brief walk directly parallel to the much-used 405 freeway. It’s hard to ignore growth and demands on nature when walking next to a jam-packed freeway. Fortunately we were quickly under the 405 and into the spectacular Mercer Slough. It’s remarkable that such an important and natural place exists in the shadow of downtown high-rises. Heron, turtles and other wildlife are common sights and this time of year, hints of spring popping up everywhere.

From the slough, we shared the trail with bicyclists as we made our way to the shore of Lake Washington at Enatai park.  The park is a perfect place for considering the interface between nature and development because it is set literally underneath the I-90 freeway. Yet looking out on to the lake, nature abounds as does wildlife and recreation. 

Our trek through Bellevue demonstrates many of the benefits of creating a strong tie to nature in the midst of intense growth. Parks, greenbelts and even small pockets of plants foster wildlife, cool the air in the summer, clean urban storm water runoff and give us a place to retreat and reenergize.

Turn off this App Go Outside


Written by Lauren Miheli, Volunteer Coordinator

Recently a friend invited me to an event called “Party Bus Hike: Cougar Mountain Grand Traverse.”  Now I’ve been invited to many parties and events in my day, but never anything like this!  I was intrigued and sent in my RSVP immediately. 

If you’re like me and grew up in a lower-income urban community, honestly, outdoor activities can be a little intimidating.  Sometimes it feels like you need a lot of expensive gear just to fit in on the trail.  Heaven forbid you wear a cotton shirt instead of the most high-tech, synthetic, moisture-wicking garb money can buy.  And how are you going to get to a trail head without a 4-wheel drive sports vehicle?  My clothes are for urban adventures and I don’t have a car, so even though I work for The Nature Conservancy, I am embarrassed to admit I don’t get out and hike as much as I’d like to.  What I do have is a sense of adventure and an ORCA card, which I was excited to learn, would be enough to get me out of the city and to the trailhead! 

The plan for the day was to meet in the International District, take a bus to Bellevue, hike 11 miles through the Coal Creek and Cougar Mountain trails to arrive in Issaquah and catch a bus from the Issaquah Transit Center back to Seattle.  A group of about 10 people met for this mini-expedition.  On the bus ride out we got to know each other, and we solidified our new friendships during the hike.  The trail was moderate, with babbling brooks, the soothing smell of pine in the air, and a peaceful waterfall lunch stop.  Bussing back was a breeze, we all connected with each other and relaxed, and no one had to worry about staying awake at the wheel to get everyone home.

The hike was organized by Adrian Laurenzi, a local Software Engineer who co-founded an app called TOTAGO (developed by Open PlanIt and now public on the Google Play Store), that will help urban outdoor enthusiast’s access great trails using bus systems.  I could not be more excited for this idea!  Just think of all the people who could benefit from this tool.  College students, young families, urban dwellers, the list goes on.  Don’t have money for a car, gas, or parking fees?  Busses are relatively affordable for everyone.  Even if you do have a car, chances are that as someone who loves nature you’ve felt guilty about your carbon footprint and wouldn’t mind reducing your emissions.

Society has a long way to go in making outdoors activities accessible to everyone, which is something we certainly need to do if we’re going to inspire support for protecting our natural resources, but a tool like this is one  is definitely a step in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to its launch and using my bus pass to go on more hikes!

More information about the Cougar Mountain Grand Traverse can be found here

More information about the Totago app project can be found here


A Celebration of Trees & the Community

Arbor Day in Bellevue, Washington

Photography by Tomas Corsini

There’s no perfect way to celebrate the beauty of Washington than by giving back to the planet. This Earth Month, we joined the Bellevue Parks and Community Services in this great celebration of nature.

See pictures from this year’s celebration that also marks the city’s 24th year of being recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation (and 22nd year as a National Arbor Day Foundation Growth Award recipient). We had a great time at the event, enjoying volunteer projects, a tree-planting ceremony and a family festival!