Northern State Recreation Area: Paths of the Past and Trails for the Future
The Skagit County Parks and Recreation Department and the Port of Skagit County are partnering with the Skagit Trail Builders in reestablishing the trails that were once active pathways used by the patients making their way from the old Northern State Hospital to the highly productive farm. Patients devoted their days dividing labor on the land--milking cows, tending cattle, leading sheep, raising pigs, baking bread, cultivating vegetables, nurturing orchards, and canning foods. There were two primary arterials for their daily pilgrimage to the farm, as a daily stream of farmhands traversed the Hansen Creek footbridges that bisected the hospital campus from the farmlands.
The provisions from the extremely fertile farmlands sustained both the patients and staff at the hospital. In fact, the operations were so successful that surplus foods generated from the farming operations were disseminated to other Washington State facilities, including Western State Hospital and the State Penitentiary. The farming activities were prescribed to patients as an alternative to other more intensive treatments and the ‘compassionate farm therapy’ was a cutting edge program that proved to be tremendously successful.
The landscape plan for the hospital campus and accompanying farmland were intensively planned. The Olmsted Bothers, pioneers of the landscape design profession, were asked to create a design for the layout of roads and pathways in a way that would capitalize on the beauty of the surrounding natural environment. The Olmsteds were world renowned with a strong resume’ of projects, including Central Park in New York City and the of the University of Washington campus. The way in which Olmsted paths and landscapes were created has long been acclaimed, with artfully woven trails opening to selected natural features, crafted fastidiously to augment the serenity and create a restorative effect for its guests.
As a trail volunteer, you are bringing back the elements of the Olmsted masterpiece and helping to repurpose the vision Olmsted had for those Northern State patients who took the dawn venture east towards the morning sun to toil the lands before returning toward the setting sun at the end of their labor intensive day on the farm. The park like setting was transformative to many patients, as they found a sense of meaning in their daily lives-- strolling through the parklike landscape--following the sun as they circled in from one bridge and left on the other in seemingly orbital fashion.
As Olmsted once said, “a bridge, a pathway, a tree, a pasture: any and all elements are brought together to produce a particular effect.” Your work at Northern State will help restore the paths that have a uniquely curative history. The users of this park will bring the trails back to life and reintroduce an orbital path from the farm to the Spanish styled hospital buildings of faded grandeur. Your volunteer efforts aren’t just about building another trail. Much like the patients before us, your sweat equity will help in re-creating esteemed and curative paths-- artfully designed almost a century ago by the godfather of landscape architecture.
Join the Skagit Trail Builders, Skagit County Parks, and the Port of Skagit County in bringing back a piece of the Olmstead Legacy.