A Snapshot of the Spirit of Mercer Island: Luther Burbank Park

One of the special qualities the Mercer Island community has to offer is the abundance of lovely parks found around the island. Luther Burbank Park, on the northeast end of the Island, offers 77 acres of mostly undeveloped land to hike, bike and play on. The park features 3/4 of a mile of Lake Washington lakefront and a regional bike trail that runs along Interstate 90, which connects the park to Bellevue and downtown Mercer Island by a landscaped lid over the freeway.

With the warm summer days we’ve been experiencing in the Seattle area, spending some time near, or in, the water is a refreshing activity. On the west side of Luther Burbank Park is a public swim beach with lifeguards on duty (11 am to 6 pm) 7 days a week late June through Labor Day. Toward the middle of the park’s waterfront is a public boating dock and public fishing pier. If you have a dog, taking time to visit the off leash area at Luther Burbank, one of only two off leash parks on the Island, is  fun. The off leash area is located on the eastern waterfront of the park, not far from the Dairy Barn Ruins.

According to the city’s webpage for Luther Burbank Park, it’s home to 135 species of birds, 50 species of waterfowl, raccoons, beaver, muskrats, tree frogs and rabbits. If you check out the wetlands that occupy the north and south ends of the park, chances are good you’ll spy some of the wildlife who call the park home. The Eastside Aububon has a nice webpage about Luther Burbank Park and the birds commonly found within its borders.

The Ampitheater, east of the North Parking Lot and tennis courts, is currently being used by the Wooden O Theater to stage a Summer Outdoor Theater series on the Island. Their next performance will be The Taming of the Shrew on Thursday, July 23rd, at 7 pm. What a pleasant way to spend a warm summer evening!

Luther Burbank Park is also a rich part of the island’s history. Originally the land was the homestead of Charles C. Calkins, who eventually left the community due to a family incident and the economic depression of 1893. Several years later, the school board purchased 10 acres at the Calkins homestead to relocate an existing school for children in need of parental care. The Parental School developed a program of farm work and study for the children, which grew into a 100+ acre, self sustaining farm program under the tutelage of agriculturist James Johnson. In 1931 the school changed its name to Luther Burbank School, in honor of the horticulturist famous for his pioneering work hybridizing of plants and “grafting” trees. Luther Burbank’s work includes the creation of the Idaho potato, Shasta daisy, Elephant Garlic, and Himalaya blackberry.

Spending time at Luther Burbank Park highlights some of the best variety of recreation the Mercer Island community has to offer. Take a day to explore the park and enjoy what the Island has to offer. Have fun!

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