Montlake Waterfront Park

An undeveloped and filled portion of the site along the south shore of South Portage Bay came to the attention of the neighborhood group, FABNIA (Fuhrman and Boyer Neighborhood Improvement Association) and the park site was cleared of huge stands of blackberries and revealed sweeping views of the Bay and a rich wildlife habitat. Volunteers donated many hours clearing blocks of concrete and invasive plants from the site. In 2007, as Friends of South Portage Bay, they were awarded a Seattle Department of Neighborhood matching grant to restore habitat. Design and construction of the new waterfront portion of the park with a new kayak launch, trails, native plants and snags for bird habitat was completed in 2009. Volunteers continue to donate many hours to help with maintenance and restoration.

We continue to fund raise for the addition of two signs for the park produced by a local artist. The project will cost $15,000 and we have raised $12,500.00 to date. Donations are tax deductible
Donors can send checks to:
Associated Recreation Council
860 Terry Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

The check should be made out to:  Associated Recreation Council  with South Portage Bay referenced in the “For” line.
The 501 C3 tax I.D. is  51-0170717.

One sign will be a history of the area using some phrases from the below and incorporating some pictures:

Portage Bay was separated from Lake Washington by a narrow isthmus in the late 1800’s and was surrounded by stands of red cedar and Douglas fir. The isthmus was a regularly used portage that connected native tribes to the rich lake and river systems beyond Lake Union, to tribes on Union Bay and beyond and to burial grounds on Foster Island.
In the late 1800’s settlers dug a flume to connect Lake Washington to Portage Bay to transport logs to Lake Union. Tracks were added to transport coal from Newcastle across the isthmus to barges. Work on developing the Ship Canal and Montlake Cut continued from 1911- 1934; the Cut officially opened in 1917 and the Montlake Bridge in 1925.
Historic photos from 1885 and 1904 show Duwamish chief Cheshiahud residing with his family along the shore of the Portage Bay and paddling a large red cedar canoe, the principal form of transportation in the area. He fished for salmon, carved canoes from his residence on the east shore and was hired as a guide for recent settlers in the area.
Chief Cheshiahud continued to reside on the Bay after the reservation system was formed.
In the 1920’s, houseboats, floating on cast off cedar logs from local sawmills, began to populate Portage Bay and soon became a popular social gathering place during Prohibition. From the 1920- 1950 boatbuilders and designers lined the shores and prospered; many remain today. The Seattle and Queen City Yacht clubs established clubhouses, 1920 and 1934 respectively.

Looking west across South Portage Bay, note the regular row of old pilings: these served to anchor an “affordable housing” houseboat community until they were moved to make way for the Viaduct in the 1960’s.
In the late 1920’s civic leaders were concerned with directing the energy of youth from delinquency to positive activities and so began the effort to develop the present day playfield and ball park. Many challenges faced the project as swampy, frequently flooded land characterized the site. The park site was occupied by a Dahlia Farm and, to meet the demands of the owners, residents taxed themselves to buy the farm before work could start on the park. Over the years, fill from many projects such as Hwy 520 has been dumped on the site in an attempt to alleviate swampy conditions.

The second sign will focus on Beavers and other wild life in the “hood.”

Several colonies of beavers call South Portage Bay home.  They have constructed lodges for protection and to raise their annual brood of 4-6 kits. One lodge is hidden along the south shore of the bay, another is quite visible below the Montlake exit of the Viaduct. When the water lilies appear in late spring, it’s common, in the dusk hours, to see as many as six-eight beavers munching the leaves and stems of the lily pads, swimming, diving and occasionally slapping the surface of the water with their tails.
Each monogamous pair of beavers will provide a home for the current year’s offspring and last year’s. After two years, offspring venture off to found their own colonies.
(The sign will have a drawing showing cross cut of lodge – see below)

In the winter months, the beavers shift their diet to woody plants. Notice the distinctive gnawed stumps and limbs of cottonwood, alder and willow near the park shore; good examples are on the point west of the kayak launch. Young trees surrounded with wire fencing are being protected from beavers by park volunteers.

South Portage Bay is a rich wildlife habitat in spite of its dense urban surroundings.
Resident and migratory birds regularly seen throughout the year include the Great Blue Heron, eagle, osprey, mallards, gadwalls, American coots, buffleheads, mergansers, Pied- billed grebes, scaups and red winged blackbirds.
(The sign will have simple drawings showing many of these birds – see below)

Chinook salmon migrate through the Montlake Cut and some venture into South Portage Bay where small and largemouth bass, a predator fish, await them beneath the lily pads.



  1. Scott Coughlin says

    Very nice site, and I enjoyed this backgrounder on Portage Bay. The new park and boat launch have been a great addition and improvement. One quick comment regarding the final sentence in the signage language above. In addition to chinook, sockeye (also known as red, or blueback) salmon migrate through Portage Bay. In fact, the sockeye greatly outnumber chinook (or king) salmon. When the run is sufficiently large, tribal fishermen harvest sockeye with gillnets in Lake Union as the fish transit. In some years there is also a Lake Washington sport fishing season for sockeye that you may have seen underway as you cross 520, when dozens of sport fishermen are seen trolling back and forth, just north of the central bridge span. The state of Washington manages the sockeye fishery in cooperation with the Muckleshoot, Suquamish and Tulalip tribes. More info here for anyone who is interested:

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