Seattle safety project: A snake shelter on Beacon Hill
Seattle's first public herpetarium, or reptile habitat, opened in June in Beacon Hill's Jose Rizal Park, to provide shelter for the local garter snake population. The modest structure was built with rocks and concrete debris that had been removed for the benefit of Seattle Parks Department mowing crews.
Special to the Seattle Times
Beacon Hill's newest community center isn't much to look at — a jumbled pile of rocks, really. But for some of Jose Rizal Park's most secretive and slithery residents, it's a place to hang out.
Last month, garter snakes populating the park's tree-tangled west side got a construction project designed just for them. Called a herpetarium, it's a shelter fit for any reptile, with its small, pyramid-shaped form and walls lined with recycled scrap.
"It's not the Taj Mahal," said project coordinator Craig Thompson.
The herpetarium is a first for Seattle's public parks, a small part of a larger mission to make the west side of Beacon Hill — sometimes referred to as "the jungle" — a safer and more cared-for place. In the last year, blackberry thickets have been cleared away and replaced by new trees, a response to the violence and vagrancy that have plagued the area in the past.
"It became apparent to those who had been working on the park that we needed to make the park safer," said Thompson, a neighborhood resident and software-publications manager who coordinated the community-led effort.
Seattle Parks Department mowing crews kept breaking their mowers on the stones and concrete debris littering the park's off-leash area. When the department eventually rounded up the troublesome chunks, city forester Rory Denovan suggested using them to build the snake habitat.
Thompson took it from there, and he thinks the design, while modest, honors its surroundings. The reptile-friendly pyramid has a base 4 feet long on each side, and an apex 2 ½ feet tall.
"I got inspiration from Andy Goldsworthy, an international artist who believes that art is meant to come from its setting and blend into the environment," he said.
Visible to the public, the herpetarium is on the park's north downhill end. It can be reached through the lower meadow, not far from a cluster of sumac trees.
Garter snakes aren't dangerous, and are afraid of people. Parks Department spokeswoman Dewey Potter said mowing crews see them all the time.
On June 6, Seattle Works Day, 38 volunteers armed with shovels, garden forks, wheelbarrows, gloves and picks constructed the pyramid-shaped habitat around a rock-filled inner chamber. "Every good pyramid has to have a secret chamber," Thompson said.
Such chambers let snakes hibernate during the winter. When the snakes emerge, they warm themselves on sunlit rocks, with easy escape should predators pass by.
The structure also incorporates three rows of old drainage tiles from a neighbor.
Help came from the city's Department of Neighborhoods, the Parks Department and Seattle Public Utility, as well as EnviroIssues, RealNetworks and Pyramid Brewery, with minimal funding tapped from a grant received from the city's Neighborhood Matching Fund.
"It was a low-cost opportunity to utilize materials that would've had to have been disposed of," Denovan said.
The Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society approves. Aimee Kenoyer, president of the reptile-enthusiast group, said herpetariums can teach people about natural species.
"Anything to promote a species is a good idea," Kenoyer said. "Snakes eat a lot of insects and benefit humans."
Anyone can make their own herpetarium, she said, using items that duplicate the animal's natural habitat. Vegetation, native plants, grasses and small shrubs are all components.
"The project adds a touch of goodness to what had been a dangerous place," Thompson said. "It's a small, little project, but small successes count large."
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.