Explore your wild, communal backyard

With the price of gas so high this summer it's quite an investment to get out into the woods to recharge your spiritual batteries. Fortunately the Madison Park Times neighborhoods have great trailheads in several nearby parks.

Two excellent parks capture the wilderness experience. Seward Park encompasses the Bailey Peninsula and features trails ranging from easy paved pathways along the shore to more challenging deep forest dirt tracks. The Washington Park Arboretum offers shoreline and marsh walks. Of course, since both of these are urban parks, getting a true wilderness experience isn't possible, but they come surprisingly close.

The Washington Park Arboretum offers many opportunities to get into nature, including a nationally recognized tree collection, rhododendrons and an exquisite Japanese garden. The highlight is the one-mile of easy marshland and garden trail just south of the Montlake Cut.

Even for veterans, the Arboretum visitor center is a good place to start. You can pick up lots of helpful information, maps and handouts that will make your hike far more interesting. It is always satisfying to have the answer at hand when someone points and says, "Hey, what is that?"

Even better, bring your own bird guide and marshland plant guide. A picnic lunch would be welcome, too.

The flat, easy trail parallels the elevated roadway to the Evergreen Point (Hwy 520) Bridge passing through Seattle's largest remaining wetland on a series of asphalt, bark and boardwalk trails. The trail begins at the Museum of History and Industry, crosses Marsh Island and wends its way to Foster Island and on to the mainland.

The cattails, marsh grass and willows are alive with cormorants, swallows and redwing blackbirds. Look for skunk cabbage, yellow iris and water lilies. On occasion there are even sightings of the wild UW paddle flashers gliding by in their distinctive aluminum canoes.

Restrooms are available at the Arboretum visitors center and the Museum of History and Industry. No dogs or cyclists are allowed and no jogging on the fragile trail.

But for the wilderness in the city, the gem is Seward Park's network of trails winding through a true old growth forest. Encompassing all 277 acres of the peninsula, the park is home to the largest remaining stand of old growth forest in the city. It is also home to the newly opened Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center, a collaboration between the city and the National Audubon Society - one of the world's oldest and most respected environmental protection, advocacy and education institutions.

To learn more about the center's activities, including weekly guided walks into the park's interior, visit http://sewardpark.audubon.org.

A third alternative is Interlaken Park on the north slope of Capitol Hill. The park covers a densely wooded hillside and ravine and is home to what must surely be the largest stand of Coast Redwoods in the area (they were planted by the city at the beginning of the 20th century). The trails vary from steep to mild, paved to gravel. Plan to share the trails with joggers and bicycles.

To get to the Arboretum, park at the Arboretum or at the Museum of History and Industry. Parking is usually more available at the museum. Metro buses 25, 43, 44 and 48 serve the museum, as do many of the buses crossing the 520 Bridge to the Eastside. The arboretum is served by buses 43 and 48. Routes 11 and 84 stop at the south end of the Arboretum, should you wish to add the wooded trails to your walk.

To get to Discovery Park make your way to West Gilman Street, which becomes West Government Way. West Government Way leads to the east park entrance. The Visitor Center will be on the left. Bus routes 24 and 33 serve the park.

Interlaken is officially at 2451 Delmar Dr. E., but access to the trails is best from East Galer Street and 19th Avenue East or from Louisa Boren Park, at 15th Avenue East and East Olin Pl. Bus 12 goes to East Galer and 19th Ave. East. Bus 10 goes within a few blocks of Louisa Boren Park on 15th Ave. East.

Korte Brueckmann and Erik Hansen may be reached via mptimes@nwlink.com.

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