Fed by springs and packed with salmon, Ravenna Creek once flowed freely from Green Lake, through Ravenna Park, all the way to Lake Washington.
But as the University Village shopping center was built and other development took place, the sparkling stream was relegated into a storm drain in Ravenna Park and sent off in the opposite direction through sewer pipes to the West Point treatment plant. There, it empties into Puget Sound.
Now, Ravenna-area residents - thousands of them - are working on a plan to bring the stream back above ground, stock it with salmon and redirect it back over its original course to Lake Washington's Union Bay.
It's an ambitious, one-of-a-kind restoration that would mean digging a creek bed through the shopping mall's parking lot and down one side of a Ravenna-area street, making the street one-way. And it would mean raising lots of money.
"It's going to happen. It's too good an idea not to happen," said Tom Murdoch of Ravenna, director of the nonprofit Adopt-A-Stream Foundation.
"A project of this magnitude will draw national and international attention to Seattle," added Murdoch, who has helped develop the proposal. "My vision is to have schoolchildren from all over the city participate in a salmon release to restore salmon runs to the creek."
Proposals have been made to restore many other such creeks, but backers say none has offered the potential benefits that "daylighting" Ravenna Creek could provide - freeing up millions of gallons of sewage-treatment capacity, sending valuable fresh water into Lake Washington and, in fact, actually bringing back to life a creek that no longer exists.
"I've talked to probably 3,000 people, and they don't think it's a good idea, they think it's an extraordinary idea," said Kit O'Neill, who has lived near the creek for nine years.
She became interested in restoring it during work for a landscape-architecture degree at the University of Washington.
"There's not anything quite like this anywhere in the country that I've heard about," added O'Neill, project coordinator for the Ravenna Creek daylighting project and an organizer of the Ravenna Creek Alliance, which has collected more than 1,000 signatures supporting a restored creek.
Even official reaction has been favorable. "I think it's a great idea," said Cliff Marks, senior planner with the city Planning Department. "We do have a specific policy to encourage daylighting," he said, and restoring Ravenna Creek would fit perfectly under that policy.
"From a traffic standpoint, we see no major problems," said Brian Kemper, city acting assistant transportation director. "It sounds like an interesting project. I'm sure we can work with them."
NO OFFICIAL POSITION YET
The Department of Parks and Recreation has not yet taken an official position on restoring the creek, but "I think everybody in this department would be sympathetic to it," said department Director Holly Miller. "The only question would be maintenance of it. The general trend is to return them (streams) to their original state as much as possible."
The creek once was the outlet for Green Lake, although now it's fed mainly by springs since the Green Lake flow was cut off.
The city acquired part of the creek bed as a park early in the century, and the creek still flows freely for about 10 blocks through Ravenna Park, just north of Northeast 55th Street, collecting in ponds, winding among ferns and trees.
Before the diversion into the storm grate at the south end of the park, it followed a course from there through what is now University Village and a UW parking lot into Union Bay.
The diversion was made in about 1948, O'Neill said, after the Montlake area was made into a dump and landfill and shortly before University Village was built in the 1950s.
The stream now puts about 2 million gallons of fresh water a day into the sewage system - an amount about equal to the sewage flow from about 20,000 people. "It takes up capacity that could be taken up by real sewage," said Metro's Doug Houck.
The impetus to restore the creek dates to 1988, when the state Department of Ecology issued an order telling Metro to reduce sewage overflows in heavy rains. Metro figured one way to accomplish that goal would be to remove the Ravenna Creek flow from the Metro treatment plant.
METRO HEARINGS LAST YEAR
Metro held hearings on the plan last year and planned to spend about $700,000 on an underground pipeline to Union Bay. The diversion is to be done by 1995.
It was the hearings that prompted the community to question the underground pipe, and prompted O'Neill to study the feasibility of restoring the creek for her master's work at the UW.
Students at the UW's Department of Landscape Architecture also got involved, doing a series of design studies showing how the creek might be made into an open stream bed.
The most feasible design has the creek flowing through a stream bed about 6 feet deep that would have to be dug for about 2,500 feet - almost a half-mile - until it meets a slough at the UW parking lot at Northeast 45th Street. From there, it would flow into Union Bay.
Despite widespread support for the project it faces some formidable hurdles:
-- The cost of rerouting and daylighting the creek is estimated at around $1.5 million to $2 million - twice the price of running it through a pipe, said O'Neill - and a source for the additional money still has to be found.
Several plans are being considered for raising the money, ranging from asking for donations to applying for government grants.
Before that, however, questions such as possible tax-exempt status for the Ravenna Creek Alliance have to be resolved, Murdoch said.
Among the funding possibilities is Metro itself, said Houck, who explains that up to $2 million is theoretically available because that's the amount Metro would have spent over 20 years to handle the Ravenna Creek flow if the stream kept going through the treatment plant.
Another possibility is funding through a state Department of Natural Resources program.
-- Ravenna Place Northeast would have to be changed to a one-way street with angle parking because the stream would take up 30 feet of the street's 60-foot right of way, said O'Neill. In addition, some property acquisition may be needed, including easements on land occupied by a former lumber company where a motel now is being planned, which could add to costs.
NO GOVERNMENTAL BARRIERS
But O'Neill said her research shows no major governmental barriers exist, such as the need to prepare an environmental-impact statement.
Most of the costs would come from normal construction work - digging and landscaping a stream channel through the shopping center.
While individual merchants in the shopping center have expressed support for the plan, the shopping center actually belongs to an out-of-state pension fund and its board of directors would have to approve the project for it to proceed, said O'Neill. The pension fund has not been approached formally about the work.
University Village management has been enthusiastic about the work, however, and a giant fiberglass salmon was shown there in June to develop awareness and support for restoring the creek.
"We need some money and we need parks to be convinced and we need the University Village owners to be convinced," said O'Neill. -----------------------------
Information about restoring Ravenna Creek is available from the Ravenna Creek Alliance, 5116 26th Ave. N.E., Seattle, 98105, or by telephoning 523-4523.