by Patheresa Wells
Under the first clear skies the area had received in days, this past Saturday, Nov. 20, community members teamed up with volunteers from The Mission Continues, a veterans organization that promotes community service, to spruce up the Mapes Creek Walkway in Rainier Beach.
The walkway is not only an essential pedestrian path for the neighborhood but environmentally, Mapes Creek plays a critical part as a Chinook salmon-rearing habitat with the creek flowing into Lake Washington. But the walkway has transformed over the years: Once used as a dumping ground, community members like those present Saturday are now working to address the need for a safe, accessible, and artistic pathway reflective of the neighborhood.
Maria McDaniel, who has lived in the area since 1986, would take the walkway as her kids were growing up. “Over the years, I’ve seen this walkway become kind of unwalkable,” she said. McDaniel would always teach her kids to clean up on the walkway, removing litter. And that desire to keep the walkway as a welcoming space is what brought her and her now adult daughter Elizabeth McDaniel out to help.
Elizabeth shared that she “used to walk this creek way to get to and from the bus and to get home. So it’s nice that we’re all out here just trying to keep it clean.” She also wants people to “know that Brown people still live in this neighborhood. And so I want to make sure that I’m doing my part and making sure that we’re still visible.”
The visibility of the neighbors, Mission Continues volunteers, and others could be seen in the hard work of picking up litter, planting flowers, and spreading mulch. Jenny Frankl who works with Seattle Public Utilities’ Adopt-a-Street Program was there to provide resources like cleanup supplies and safety materials to those present. She hopes that others will get out in their neighorboods to do similar work.
The encouragement that comes from seeing his neighbors get together to clean up the space is for King Nisby an important part of the change that has occurred with the walkway. As a little boy, he would ride his bike on the walkway to Beer Sheva Park.
“It’s just great to see how it’s evolved and see how many people that have come together that want to take care of it, and nurture it,” said Nisby.
One of the ways the walkway has been nurtured is not only through natural beautification but artistic as well. Artist and Rainier Beach resident Isaac Grayson has provided art that can be seen on the walkway and fences that line it. Grayson, who has been a resident for over 25 years says, “At one time, this was a dirt road. And we didn’t know this was a creek or anything of that nature. So back then it was just kind of a dirt road and over time, they changed it to a beautiful walkway.” Adding the art, which includes elements that are reflective of the neighborhood, and coming out to the Fall Spruce Up event is how Grayson contributes to the community that he was raised in and still resides in.
That continuation of commitment to the walkway, the neighborhood, and its people was evident in all the hard work that took place Saturday. Work that The Mission Continues, the organization that held the event, is devoted to help community members with. Linh Thai, program manager for the organization, says that their goal is to “foster trust with community partners and leaders that veterans are here to serve, to colead and, if necessary, to follow the community’s leads to realize whatever the community’s aspirations and objectives might be.” Which is why they have done multiple cleanup events at Mapes Creek Walkway, assisting the community to address needs. “We believe that the community always has what it takes and we can be the instruments and resources of positive impacts and change in the community,” Thai added.
It is clear from the labor that went into the Fall Spruce Up event that the neighbors in Rainier Beach believe the Mapes Creek Walkway is an important pedestrian path which beautifies the neighborhood and is environmentally important as well. They worked hard with local partners to keep the transformative changes that have taken place at the walkway as a benefit to all in Rainier Beach.
Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in creative writing. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
📸 Featured Image: Volunteers Ryan Croone II, Tyree Abella, and King Nisby dig a trench for tulips during the Veterans Day of Service project Operation: Mapes Walkway Spruce Up, Nov. 20, at South Henderson Street and 52nd Avenue. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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