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News / Northwest

Seattle’s Denny Blaine Park to remain a nude beach

By Vonnai Phair, The Seattle Times
Published: June 13, 2024, 7:46am

SEATTLE — Denny Blaine Park, which has been used as an unofficial nude beach for decades, especially by LGBTQ+ swimmers and sunbathers, will remain just that.

Seattle Parks and Recreation announced Monday it will not update the use guidelines for Denny Blaine Park.

The parks department had proposed to split the park into zones — nude and clothing-recommended — in May, after a plan to build a playground at the park was vetoed last year amid pushback.

The plan to split the park was also met with ire from community members, who said it caved to the requests of wealthy, contemptuous homeowners.

Members of Friends of Denny Blaine Park — which formed in opposition to the playground proposal last year — responded to the news with tepid approval.

Co-lead Sophie Amity Debs said she and others had hoped the city would announce supplementary use guidelines for Denny Blaine that explicitly state that public nudity, which is legal in Washington except when a person knows they’re likely to cause “affront and alarm,” is allowed at the park.

“I think we’re disappointed but we’re focusing on moving forward,” Debs said. “We’re glad they responded to the overwhelming negative feedback from people that the zones are terrible.”

Milo Kusold, a frequent park user who was involved in organizing against the playground proposal, said they are disappointed that city officials failed to make promises they would not prioritize the wishes of wealthy neighbors.

KUOW reported the multimillionaire Stuart Sloan, who owns University Village, was the anonymous donor behind the now-scrapped plan to build a playground at the park.

“The parks department has not addressed at all that they’re doing deals with rich people,” Kusold said. “[With] no statement on what the article exposed, I feel like it would be pretty hard to work and collaborate with them.”

Public comment on the department’s zone plan closed June 6. The parks department had planned to then bring the proposal to the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners for review, but “through the community engagement process, it became clear that the suggested guidelines were already covered under existing Parks Code,” spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said.

The department also announced it formally recognized the Friends of Denny Blaine Park, which comprises neighbors, LGBTQ+ community members and Seattle parks staff.

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The group is now advocating for community-driven solutions to make people feel welcome at the park and to improve park safety and access, like adding handrails to stairs, replacing invasive and thorny blackberry plants, and alleviating parking and transportation issues, group co-leads Colleen Kimseylove and Debs said.

“All of this has really brought the community together, and I think it has connected a lot of beachgoers from different walks of life,” Debs said. “We have a lot of power in community.”

The parks department also said it is funding larger-scale improvements to Denny Blaine, such as to the staircases. And it is using the Parks Community Fund to develop an overall site improvement plan, proposed by the Friends, which has moved into the project development phase.

The parks department’s proposed playground project was canceled in December after community backlash. People viewed the $550,000 plan as a discriminatory attempt to change the way the small, secluded space on Lake Washington has been used for decades.

Thousands of people last year signed a petition against the project, describing the beach as an important space where LGBTQ+ people feel safe, accepted and free.

“There are shockingly few places where queer folks can feel safe … where trans bodies can be safe,” Debs said, adding that she personally has experienced a hate crime while swimming at another beach. “Having a space that has been a queer beach and where queer people are welcome … is something we feel good about.”