Discovery in Seattle

Learn and play in the city's most treasured urban park

What should a city park be? A playground, a sanctuary in the urban hubbub, a feast of botanical beauty, a refuge for wildlife, an environmental-learning center?

Discovery Park is all of these, but most important, it's a place to learn. There are five major natural habitats ― forest, thicket, meadow, freshwater pond, and ocean beach ― and the park's more than 534 acres are enough to sustain natural predator-prey systems. Voles scratch labyrinths through the meadow thatch by day; come evening, the unlucky ones become owls' dinners.

As an urban park, Discovery has special ecological issues. Park naturalist Dan Moore says people sometimes dump unwanted pets here, such as rabbits and frogs, assuming the park is large enough for the animals to eke out a living. Some can, but they upset the equilibrium, becoming easy prey for feral cats, Moore explains.

The Himalayan blackberry is also a pernicious invader. Yet not everyone sees it as the vine from hell; it furnishes food and habitat. To a few creatures, including the occasional hungry biped, the park might be poorer without it.

This may be the most important "discovery" here: Nature is an immeasurably complicated web. The park is a real-world ecosystem that incorporates the meddling of the human species. It shows us what we're doing wrong ― and right.

INFO: Discovery Park's Environmental Learning Center/Visitor Center (8:30-5 Tue-Sun; 3801 W. Government Way, Seattle; 206/386-4236) provides maps ($1) and information on naturalist-guided walks and programs. ― Lawrence Cheek