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Is Green Lake’s Duck Island open to the public?

What do you think? (6 Comments) January 17, 2011 at 6:04AM

A reader wrote to us recently with a question: Is Green Lake’s Duck Island open to the public, or is it a wildlife sanctuary?

Duck Island, when Green Lake froze (date unknown). Photo courtesy

We put this question to the Parks Department and learned that no, Duck Island is not open to the public, but, contrary to popular belief, the island is not a wildlife sanctuary or a game reserve.

First, a little history, via Louis Fiset, writing for

The island was constructed in 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to clean up Green Lake and make improvements to it. The lake was partially dredged, and the island was built. Works Progress Administration crews constructed a temporary trestle off the lake’s northwest shore to the edge of a cofferdam and pilings. Workers hauled mud along the trestle in countless wheelbarrow loads, creating an island that rose some 10 feet above the water. Swan Island [as Duck Island was first known] was born.

In 1937, the Victoria, B.C. Parks Department donated a pair of one-year-old Signet swans in hopes of propagating a permanent population at the new sanctuary. This attempt failed, as did numerous other swan donations made as recently as the late 1970s. For their nesting habitat, swans require shallow waters producing reeds and grasses. Swan Island’s steep drop-off prevented such growth; thus, the birds had to nest in vegetation near the shore, exposing themselves and their young to dangers from humans and animals. The Signets did not survive.

Source: Don Sherwood, “Green Lake,” in “Interpretive Essays of the Histories of Seattle’s Parks and Playfields,” Handwritten bound manuscript dated 1977, Seattle Room, Seattle Public Library.

In 1956, Swan Island, now more commonly known as Duck Island, was designated by the Washington State Game Commission as “The Waldo J. Dahl Game Reserve,” a wildlife refuge, and the island was made off-limits to the public.

However, according to Chris Anderson, a Wildlife Biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Duck Island lost its designation as a game reserve in 1983.

“Part of the south end of the lake is encompassed into the local bald eagle management buffer,” Anderson said, “but other than that we only have a few wildlife species occurrences mapped on the lake, from some years back, and nothing particularly noted for Duck Island.”

However, the public is still forbidden by the Parks Department from trespassing on the island, and it is recommended that people don’t swim around it either.  ”Duck Island is out of the bounds of a designated swimming area,” Joelle Hammerstad, a Parks and Recreation Public Information Officer told me, ”and could therefore be dangerous because of boats on the lake.”  And, she pointed out, there’s no lifeguard covering that area of the lake.

Duck Island, winter 2008. Photo courtesy Michael E. Mazon

Update, Jan. 21, 2011: In response to a question in the comments to this story, Joelle Hammerstad of Parks and Recreation sent me the following note that further explains why Duck Island is off limits to the public:

We have kept it off limits because we don’t want the island to become an attractive nuisance.

In the past, kids have set up rope swings on the island – which are strictly prohibited on Park property for safety reasons. Also folks have been known to go out there and drink. And, we don’t have a lifeguard on duty.

All in all, it’s not a safe place for play of any kind. We certainly wouldn’t want someone getting out there, drinking and swimming, then getting into some kind of trouble. There wouldn’t be anyone to help them.

Many thanks to Luke McGuff for the original question about the status of Duck Island, and to Joelle Hammerstad, Chris Anderson, Barbara DeCaro, Jason Frisk, and Kathy Whitman for their help getting to the answer.

6 Responses to “Is Green Lake’s Duck Island open to the public?”

  1. So if it’s not a game reserve anymore, why is it off limits?

    • Anonymous says:

      Fair question, Benjamin. I’ll get ahold of the Parks Department and ask them to clarify.

      - Amy

      • Feaze says:

        I’ve paddle boated out there once and walked around. I wasn’t arrested. There were no ducks or abundance of duck droppings. There was, however, some trash and empty tall boy cans and some trails leading to aforementioned taint.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks again for this question, Ben. I put it to the Parks Department and heard back from Joelle Hammerstad. I’ve posted her detailed response in an update to the story above.

  2. Dreamindotty says:

    I was told this by my husband, who used to play on duck Island when he was young, that you wouldnt want to go there because of all the bird droppings…I still like to think that the ducks should have hier own little Island.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks, Dreamindotty. Really appreciate that bit of info from your husband…It’s always hugely valuable to hear from people who lived or spent time in Green Lake in the past!

      - Amy