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Thursday, July 21, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Enjoy a summer dawdle along urban trail — old and new

Special to The Seattle Times

Getting around in life should be a pleasure, and three superior routes come to mind: Highway 101, Route 66 and the Burke-Gilman Trail.

The trail, which together with the Sammamish River Trail covers about 27 miles from Redmond west to Ballard, is one of the most traversed paths in the nation. And part of what makes it popular are the trailside artwork, waterside rest stops and urban vistas right in the middle of Seattle.

Burke-Gilman boosters continue their work to extend the trail's reach: The latest section from the Ballard Locks to Shilshole Bay is being completed this week. By next year, a missing link will complete the East Lake Sammamish Trail, so that trekkers may go from Puget Sound all the way to the Cascade foothills.

That's ambitious. For a small urban sampling, start at Seattle's University Bridge and walk (or ride or roll) to the present terminus in Ballard. Slow down and discover sights you likely rushed by in the past.

At the University Bridge, the trail is enclosed in a leafy, green tunnel that suddenly gives way to a bold political statement under the span. This huge sculpture proclaims itself the "Wall of Death," with metal cones in a semi-circle that mimic missile warheads. The piece takes on a more playful note since the location doubles as an improv skate park for skateboarders grinding up and down sloping concrete supports.

The trail continues peacefully west, peaceful as long as both the wheeled and the walking obey rules. Nothing sets the bikers off so much as some yokel strolling on their side of the trail. Nothing sets walkers off so much as aggressive cyclists hogging the path then snarling, "On your left!" A little courtesy and situational awareness are useful on the trail.

Pastoral ends big time beneath the Ship Canal Bridge, where the din of Interstate 5 traffic hums in your chest, but that's quickly left behind as the trail skirts north Lake Union. At about Northeast Pacific and Second Northeast, the path splits. Cyclists go below while those on foot take the high road. From up there, views of the lake are pretty but the ambience is more like Belltown with row upon row of condos.

New trail section ready for riders

Help celebrate completion of the newest stretch of the Burke-Gilman Trail. Mayor Greg Nickels, other officials and trail backers will attend a ceremony Monday from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. in the parking lot adjacent to Northwest 54th Street and 32nd Avenue Northwest, west of the Ballard Locks entrance.

The $3.4 million project includes seven-tenths of a mile of pedestrian walkway and bike path connecting the locks with Shilshole Bay at Northwest 60th Street.

The project included rebuilding an intersection, new drainage, extensive trailside landscaping and installation of a public water fountain.

For now, the new section does not connect with the rest of the Burke-Gilman, which ends 1.5 miles to the east at 11th Avenue Northwest. Plans are to link the stretches of trail, and extend it northward to Golden Gardens Park.

Still, there's random beauty: Wild roses grow in a tangle on the side of the trail, threading through a bounty of ripening blackberries. Pluck and pop the berries but do take them from well above the ground, remembering that dog walkers favor this route as well.

Heading west again, you could veer off to nearby Gas Works Park for its vast swaths of lawn. Watch the chaos on the water that always seems to work out — kayaks, power boats, heeling sailboats, all mixing it up with seaplanes landing and taking off.

Just past the park, consider another detour at Densmore Street North. It's a few blocks uphill to Wallingford's Essential Bakery Cafe (1604 N. 34th St.), where you can stock up on picnic supplies for later. Grab a sandwich made with its fresh-baked breads and get at least one gooey dessert. Maybe more.

Back on the trail, follow a long curving wall covered with graffiti on one side. On the other, abandoned cars crouch in overgrowth. While these sights aren't beautiful, they are true to the neighborhood, which is frankly industrial.

This sets up the proper contrast as you enter Fremont's jog of the trail. Oozing prettiness and prosperity, this stretch features sailboats and houseboats — one floating home blooms with a roof full of potted red geraniums. In the shadow of the Aurora Bridge, the path offers closer views of the water. Then, near the Fremont Bridge, in the back yard of the Adobe campus, the trail becomes parklike — groomed and soothing.

Just before the trail winds under Fremont's bridge, look for a bench shielded by trees — a quiet nook to watch the span go up and go down and the world drift by.

If you go

King County and the City of Seattle jointly manage the Burke-Gilman Trail. In Bothell, the trail becomes the Sammamish River Trail and continues to Marymoor Park in Redmond. For maps, guides and information, visit these Web sites:

Seattle Parks and Recreation,

King County Parks,

Snack stop

The Essential Bakery Café: 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday; 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. 1604 N. 34th St., Seattle; 206-545-0444.

A trailside diversion

Fremont Outdoor Cinema is BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair) with a suggested donation of $5. Opens at 7:30 p.m. with the movie at dusk, Saturdays through Aug. 27. North 35th Street and Phinney Avenue North; 206-781-4230 or

Farther west along the canal, the feeling is chic European, like Amsterdam with its abundance of bicycles. People lounge by the water for a contemplative ritual — the feeding of ducks. Workers on lunch breaks sprawl on grass reading and eating deli takeout from the nearby PCC Natural Market. It's like a nanosecond vacation as the frenetic pace of commerce drains away.

Should you time it right on a Saturday evening, you could take another detour and go to a movie — at the Fremont Outdoor Cinema, which tends to show 1950s sci-fi and deliciously, very B-movies (North 35th Street and Phinney Avenue North;

If you've still got your picnic, here's a great place to settle in: the Canal Park Shelter and Viewpoint, what's got to be one of the smallest parks in the city. Follow steps or a ramp down to a landing built over the water. Once situated on the bench, indulge in a cheap thrill: Check out the other half as they sail by in their yachts. This becomes especially poignant if it's midday on a Wednesday when everyone should be cubicle bound. Wave at them (they don't always wave back), then guess their income and what portion is locked up in those boats. Note that money doesn't buy happiness. Try to believe it.

Well, at least you've got the trail, the beautiful trail, which finally comes to Ballard, veering away from water and into another industrial zone, ending at 11th Avenue Northwest near the people's store, Fred Meyer. To be honest, trail's end is a bit disappointing, fizzling like a day-old birthday balloon. Which is why the new, not-yet-connected stretch — from the Ballard Locks to Shilshole — is so welcome.

Like all great routes — the Silk Road, the Oregon Trail — this trek continues.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company




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