Lowman Beach Park is small, but according to locals, it’s a hidden gem with incredible views. On a warm day, you might come across sunbathers taking in the rays, children playing on driftwood logs, or paddle boarders setting off from the shore.
The park has evolved many times over the past century. On Saturday, September 24th, a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the park’s most drastic overhaul yet. Many years in the making, the result is expanded views and improved habitat for beach creatures. In this article, we’ll explore the history of the park and how our rock helped bring it into the 21st Century.
A Failing Seawall and a Hidden Creek
Just a short time ago, Lowman Beach Park visitors had to walk around a seawall to access the beach. A tennis court took up most of the upper park. A drain pipe carried Pelly Creek under Beach Drive and the tennis court and emptied just past the seawall.
After the Thanksgiving storm of 2015, the seawall began to tilt. With the community’s input, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department reimagined a Lowman Beach Park that better emulated nature.
Beginning in September 2020, Mike McClung Construction brought the Seattle Parks’ vision to life. The seawall was removed. The backshore beach was restored with native materials, grading, and plantings.
A more subtle seawall now protects neighbors and the park.
The tennis court was removed, allowing Pelly Creek to daylight higher up in the park and wind its way through an engineered creek onto the beach.
Finally, ADA-accessible paths were installed. Benches provide panoramic views of the beach and mountains.
The Science of Making a Beach
Restoring the back beach required placing 2,000 cubic yards of native material, or over 90 truck-and-trailer loads.
Environmental Science Associates (ESA) painstakingly studied the composition of the beach to determine what imported material should look like. The Lowman Beach Park project required two specific custom beach mixes: Type 1 and Type 2.
Washington Rock’s Quality Control Lab manager, Ryan Hogg, is no stranger to making custom beach rock and sand mixes. Over the years, he’s crafted dozens of recipes to match the characteristics of specific marine habitats.
“For habitat restoration projects, it’s important to closely simulate the original habitat to keep the eco-system thriving,” Ryan explained. “Creatures develop ways of surviving based upon the habitats they have evolved in.”
Ryan explained that getting a stream mix right can lead to successful spawning. Aggregates (e.g., rock and sand) also have to be the right shape. Angled, fractured stones can make it difficult for fish to rest on to lay eggs and can even cut fish in strong currents.
When a project requires a specific mix, the Quality Control Lab starts with data from existing products. The QC Lab analyzes possible product combinations until they find one that meets the job requirements. Once the client approves the design, the QC Lab makes samples and tests them in house and sometimes sends them to be independently tested. If a sample passes quality tests, Ryan will invite architects or engineers to inspect the product.
Ryan and the QC Lab worked over many weeks to get each blend just right. The winning combinations were approved by the contractor and made in bulk for shipping. To meet the requirements of Type 1 Beach Mix, the Lab came up with this unique blend:
- 40% 2″–4″ streambed cobbles,
- 30% washed utility sand, and
- 30% AASHTO #57 (7/8″ clean drain rock).
For Type 2 Beach Mix, the Lab blended roughly
- 50% AASHTO #57 (7/8″ clean drain rock),
- 30% 1½” Drain Rock,
- and 20% extra coarse utility sand.
After our recipes were approved, we shipped nearly 3,000 tons of these beach mixes, or nearly 100 truck and trailer loads.
Daylighting Pelly Creek
The new design allowed the end point of Pelly Creek to be functional as well as aesthetically interesting. Washington Rock’s riprap was used at the exit point of the new concrete pipe, seen in the picture below.
Two layers of streambed cobbles from Washington Rock were used to create a path for the creek. The top layer of 4” streambed cobble mix allows the stream to be shaped over time. A bottom layer of 8” streambed cobbles provides stability.
Celebrating the New Park
Last Saturday, neighbors and project participants joined together to celebrate the changes to Lowman Beach Park.
“There are no words that can fully describe and encapsulate the feeling that you get just sitting here looking out at the waters and our beach,” Deputy Mayor Greg Wong said at the Lowman Beach Park Celebration.
The Deputy Mayor described the patience the project required from the community and how it paid off by providing the community a place that will be enjoyed for generations to come. “It’s projects like this that remind us that we should be connected to our world like this,” he said. “And we need to not only love but also take care of and be good stewards of our environment. And this is just one small project that demonstrates that.”
With the beach reopened this summer, visitors are enjoying a more open recreation space. But the best part of the newly reopened beach may be the natural processes that are quietly taking place.
“With the majority of the seawall removed,” the ESA explained, “the beach will be designed to mimic a natural backshore, and over time, natural ecological processes are anticipated to return to the beach.”
Over time, the beach may provide feeding and refuge habitat for juvenile salmon, spawning habitat for other fish, and habitat for shorebirds.
Read the Lowman Beach Park project page here.