Even established residents of Mt. Baker and the Rainier Valley may be unaware of the hidden staircase, known as the Charlestown Hillclimb, that connects South Courtland Place (behind the Rainier Plaza) up the hill to 37th Avenue South in Mount Baker. But the group of neighbors that comprises the Friends of Charlestown Hillclimb, along with the Mount Baker Community Club, have been working for years to transform it from a steep dirt path between the two streets into a safe pedestrian-friendly greenspace that connects the Valley with Mount Baker and Lake Washington.
As far back as the early 2000’s neighbors have been working to improve the area around Courtland Place, including the pathway that is now the hillclimb, and the project has included community art, as well. In 2002 artist Donald Fels was paired with the Courtland Place community through the City of Seattle’s Arts Up program, and began a project that included an urban archaeological dig with students from nearby John Muir Elementary, and piece of public art known as the “periscope tree“. After listening to neighborhood kids’ stories about climbing trees to watch for people coming up the hill, he created the metal tree sculpture with a built-in periscope, allowing people to survey the street below.
The stairway that replaced the path was completed in May 2013, and the FCH was awarded a $25,000 “Small and Simple” grant by the City of Seattle to fund the landscaping project that included clearing the hillside and buying new plants and irrigation supplies. Neighbors gathered last fall as part of the MBCC’s Annual Day of Service to plant more than 850 native, drought-tolerant plants, and the FCH is sponsoring work parties this summer on the fourth Saturday of each month through October to maintain the landscaping.
The project has done more than just provide a physical connection between the Valley and Mount Baker on the hillside above, it has become a true labor of love for neighbors from both communities. Take a walk up or down the stairs to see the result of years of hard work, and don’t forget to take a look through the periscope! Visit FCH’s website for updates on this ongoing project.