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

What should a city park be? A playground, a sanctuary in theurban 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 placeto learn. There are five major natural habitats ― forest,thicket, meadow, freshwater pond, and ocean beach ― and thepark's more than 534 acres are enough to sustain naturalpredator-prey systems. Voles scratch labyrinths through the meadowthatch by day; come evening, the unlucky ones become owls'dinners.

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

The Himalayan blackberry is also a pernicious invader. Yet noteveryone sees it as the vine from hell; it furnishes food andhabitat. 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 animmeasurably complicated web. The park is a real-world ecosystemthat incorporates the meddling of the human species. It shows uswhat we're doing wrong ― and right.

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

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