Luther Burbank Park is a 77 acre park along the shores of Lake Washington situated on the northern tip of Mercer Island. The park provides local residents with access to three-quarters of a mile of waterfront and a variety of recreational activities.
Before Luther Burbank was a park, it was the site of a parental school where troubled boys from Seattle were taught to farm. From 1904 to 1966 students learned to grow crops and raise cattle on the shores of Lake Washington while living in the two-story, brick boarding school that still stands in the center of the park.
The agricultural school was named for Luther Burbank, a famous Massachusetts horticulturist who pioneered plant hybridization and tree grafting and who created the baking potato. Burbank’s legacy can be seen today not only in the name of the park but also in his creation, the Himalaya blackberry, that grows throughout the park. While many demonize this plant for its invasive qualities, it is also well loved by the people who gather in the park each fall with baskets for berry picking.
Today children come to Luther Burbank Park not to work but to play on the swings, slides, monkey bars and tunnels of the playground that stands beside the former school. The park also offers many recreational activities for adults, including 3 tennis courts and a half basketball court. For theatre lovers, a nearby amphitheatre with tiered seating hosts Shakespeare in the Park in the summers.
The southern end of the park features a sandy beach and a public swimming area where lifeguards supervise swimmers from late June through early September. Nearby picnic tables and grills overlook the beach, making this an ideal spot to gather with friends and family for a weekend BBQ and a swim in the lake. Other tables and grills are scattered in scenic locations throughout the park. Some are available on a first come, first serve basis, while others can be reserved for larger get-togethers.
Slightly north of the swimming area, along a picturesque, wooded path, is a secluded pier popular with local fishermen. Several more boat docks can be found nearby, providing ample lake access for fishing enthusiasts and boaters alike.
Near the northern tip of Luther Burbank Park is a fenced, off-leash dog area. As one of the only off-leash areas in King County with access to Lake Washington, this dog park is extremely popular. Dogs can enjoy a swim while their owners toss a tennis ball for a game of fetch in the lake. Nearby the ruins of a former cow barn serve as another reminder of the park’s history as an agricultural school.
West of the dog park is a wetland and conservation area. This wildlife habit can be viewed from a boardwalk that runs alongside the wetland. Much of Luther Burbank Park remains an undeveloped refuge for the many wildlife species that live here, including rabbits, beavers, raccoons, muskrats, tree frogs and 135 species of birds.
From children to athletes, dog owners to fishing enthusiasts, theatre aficionados to nature lovers, Luther Burbank Park has something to offer every resident of Mercer Island and the nearby Seattle and Eastside communities.