Kim Robinson
A Lincoln Park Safety Walk was put on by the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council on May 28.

Enjoying Lincoln Park with safety in mind

Lincoln Park is one of the biggest and oldest of its ilk in Seattle, and for decades reaching back to the early 1900s it has been a gathering, exercising and getting away spot for West Seattleites young to old.

The park boasts 135.4 acres, 4.6 miles of walking paths, 3.9 miles of bike trails, picnic shelters, fireplaces, seawalls, impressive Olympic and Sound views, coyotes and owls, a saltwater pool: You name it, Lincoln’s got it. As West Seattle gets denser with development, the expansive natural reprieve remains as vital as ever.

Unfortunately, with all that good comes a touch of bad with the possibility of crime, and the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council gathered with park users, park staff and police to discuss safety and take a walk on the evening of May 28.

Car prowls are the number one safety concern
Except for the lucky few living close enough to always walk to Lincoln Park, many have to drive and park before entering the forest or heading to the beach. That, according to Community Police Team Officer John Flores, is at the core of Lincoln’s most prominent crime issue: car prowls.

Thieves have been known to work the south and north parking lots, checking for open doors and occasionally busting out windows to quickly get inside and frantically grab what they can before moving on.

While we ultimately need to just accept that possibility when leaving our cars unattended (it’s the same at home, work, the mall, and all), Flores had a simple recommendation that can greatly decrease the likelihood of your vehicle becoming a target. Clean it up. Take that extra minute to clear everything from the dash, floors and seats to make it appear your car is barren of loot, boring, and simply not worth the risk.

Early and late, risks increase
Lincoln Park is open from 4 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., standard hours for Seattle parks. While those extended hours allow users to take advantage of the beauty and trails beyond the day’s core, they also mean darkness shrouds trails at either end.

Flores said robberies and other types of violent crime are rare in Lincoln Park, but people are known to sleep in the woods at night and users need to be aware of their surroundings. He recommends always running or walking with a partner (or at least a dog) if possible and carrying a cell phone, just in case you need to call 911. While technology has made bringing our music with us an easy task, he recommended keeping your eyes and ears available to your surroundings.

Seattle Park Ranger Corby Christensen, a retired sheriff and firefighter from Idaho, also joined the safety walk and shared some solid tips. First, he said, stay off the interior trails at night and stick to the main routes. On that note, both Flores and Christensen said it’s a good idea to mentally map where you are in the park just in case you do need to call 911 for assistance. While the trails are not numbered, they recommend keeping a general idea of where you are in the park and mentally note easily identifiable landmarks nearby (such as a baseball field).

If you do find yourself in proximity of a sketchy individual, Christensen recommended making it known you see them, which can be as easy as saying hello and making eye contact. In doing so, he said, you might take away a potential problem-makers first move.

Seattle Parks employee Carol Baker said her department trims bushes and trees encroaching on trails to increase visibility, but there is a fine balancing act between honoring the natural environment and safety. A park user asked Baker if lights on all the trails are a possibility. Theoretically, yes. Realistically, not likely as the cost would be massive.

Private security employees close the gates at 11:30 p.m. each night and do a single sweep through the park before leaving, but for the most part there is no security around … and that includes park rangers. Christensen said slim budgets mean there are only enough rangers to patrol downtown parks at this point, but city leaders are discussing more funding which could mean regular patrolling at Lincoln one day.

The story on graffiti
Park users who joined the safety walk were curious about graffiti in the park. Flores said the marks found in Lincoln Park are primarily the work of taggers and not gang-related. Taggers are putting down signatures for recognition (while remaining anonymous, however that works), while gang graffiti can signify the marking of territory and has been known to lead to confrontations between competing packs.

If you see graffiti, he recommends calling the City of Seattle Graffiti Hotline at 206-625-7587 to report it.

Balancing safety with enjoyment
For most, the relatively minor safety risks associated with enjoying Lincoln Park (or any other park for that matter) are far outclassed by the benefits of experiencing a pristine slice of nature in the midst of a city.

Gatewood resident Kathleen McPherson joined the safety walk because she walks her dog there all the time, sometimes as early as 5 a.m, and said she wanted to learn more on becoming a smart park user.

“It’s just like anything in life,” she said, “you don’t want to be paranoid, but you want to be proactive.”