Did you know there is a national park in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood?
In the past few years, I have visited a handful of national parks: Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier, and Olympic. But I recently learned that the vast majority of our country’s 417 national parks have nary a tree nor a stream.
They are indoor “parks” connected with significant events in American history. The White House is a national park, the Statue of Liberty, even Stonewall in New York’s Greenwich Village, where the LGBTQ rights movement began.
In Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood we have one of the country’s 10 smallest national parks. Clocking in at 0.3 of an acre is the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.
“We’re part of the National Park Service system,” said interpretive park ranger, Chief of Interpretation for Seattle area national park sites, Julie Fonseca de Borges. “Most of the parks that are in the system are small historical parks that tell and talk about a small moment in time in our country’s history. So when people think of the National Park Service they, of course, think of Mount Rainier and Olympics, the North Cascades and the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and the Grand Tetons and the list goes on. But I have made my career in urban parks. I am an urban parks ranger by choice.”
Borges lives and works in the city, but she still wears a green and gray park ranger’s uniform and sometimes the wide-brimmed hat. She’s a teacher ranger, who educates field-tripping school children who stream into the building daily to learn about the Klondike Gold Rush story.
“What’s really exciting about the National Park Service is that you choose, as a ranger, where you want to work, where you want to be, what you want your career to focus on. There are some folks who love the big trees and love to be out in nature and on the trails. There are folks like me who prefer urban life. I love city life, I love being here in Seattle with the concerts and the museums and the liveliness of it all. There are folks who love to scuba dive and there are parks just for them! There are so many opportunities within the parks system and you get to choose where you want to be!”
Borges national parks can be quite valuable to the economics of a community.
“There is a recent survey that just came out that said that the economic impact of our small park being here. Our Klondike in the southern edge of Pioneer Square brings a $6 million benefit to the local area, which is great. Nationally, it’s about ten to one. For every dollar that is put into the park service, $10 is generated in the local economy.”
Sitting in the Klondike museum with Borges, I started thinking about how similar the Klondike Gold Rush is to Seattle’s current growth spurt. Of the 100,000 adventurous gold seekers who headed up to the Yukon with dreams of making it rich, 70,000 of them passed through Seattle, creating tons of new jobs and a sudden need for housing and transportation.
“There are tons of similarities between what happened in 1897 and what is happening now in 2018. We’re going through another boom. Our economy is a driving force for people coming here seeking opportunities. Our story is very much about people coming to Seattle looking for a better life, looking to create their own destiny. Seattle is a place where you can reinvent yourself and that is certainly true today.”
Visiting the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park is free, so pop in and make sure to grab a map detailing all 417 of the country’s national parks.
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