Effort To Save Urban Ravine Pays Off -- `Unsung Hero' Had A Big Impact

When Rainier Beach residents enjoy the trees, birds, possums, raccoons and the meandering of Mapes Creek through Sturtevant Ravine, they can thank Louisa Saemmer - proof that one energetic person can have a big impact on a neighborhood.

The Rainier Chamber of Commerce honored the 65-year-old retired telephone-company employee yesterday by presenting her with its quarterly Outstanding Community Service Award.

At the same time, it was announced that the city of Seattle had concluded $267,950 in purchases from five property owners of 2.78 acres of the Sturtevant Ravine as part of its Open Space Program.

"She's one of those little unsung heroes," said chamber president Norm Chamberlain of Saemmer's efforts to clean up and preserve the ravine. He also lauded her for a host of other efforts on behalf of the community, ranging from picking up litter to drumming up members for the Rainier Beach Community Club.

Marie Wilson, longtime area activist and former president of the community club, recalled that Saemmer came to her wondering whether there was a chance the city would help save the ravine.

`We'll never know until we try," was Wilson's advice. She helped Saemmer fill out the application and get the community club's backing. `"nd she went after it like a tiger," Wilson said.

It wasn't easy.


There were 133 nominations for a share of $3.5 million available to purchase the dozen sites an advisory committee ultimately recommended. The money was part of Seattle's $41 million share of the $117 million King County Open Space and Trails Bond issue approved by voters in 1989.

The ravine, which is west of Sturtevant Avenue South, roughly between South Roxbury Street and Rainier Avenue South, lies north of Kubota Gardens. Mapes Creek flows through both.

Saemmer took photographs, researched the property owners from tax-assessor records, attended numerous hearings and organized two cleanups of the ravine.

"One Saturday we went down there and cleaned up over 4 tons," Chamberlain recalled. "We had to have a pickup to winch these things out of the ravine." The mountain of trash included old sofas, chairs, tires, tables and discarded television sets.

A native of Seattle, Saemmer lives about four blocks from the ravine with her husband, a retired Boeing worker.

"I can remember when my brother used to catch fish in there," Saemmer said. " . . . That stream was part of my childhood. I passed it every day on my way to school."

Wilson said that Saemmer "tackles almost anything."

Several years ago she undertook her own "adopt-a-street" project. Armed with a plastic bag and work gloves, she would go out about once every three weeks and pick up litter along a stretch of Renton Avenue South.

Saemmer, who retired as a budget expert for the phone company in 1983, said she wanted to be a volunteer earlier in her life but found it too difficult when she was working.

Chamberlain said that the preservation of the ravine, along with the Kubota Gardens project, presents great possibilities for the community. The city yesterday announced it has spent $565,800 from the bond issue to acquire 11.7 acres of land for the gardens project and is negotiating for four more acres.


Walking paths, development of bird sanctuaries and restoring the salmon run to the creek are all options the community can consider if funding can be found, Chamberlain said.

"And it's all coming out of her desire to clean up the community and her remembrance of what it used to be and her dream of what it could be," he said of Saemmer.

Saemmer said she couldn't have done it without the help of the community club. "Let's face it - I was one person out there," she said.

"She's a very special person," Chamberlain said.