Outdoor Addict: Where the Ewoks and legislature roam

By Whitney Rhodes on March 21, 2013

Every year, the city of Olympia changes when the legislature is in session. It's like the great migration in Africa. The political operatives descend from all over the state. Eager young staffers in suits rush around, middle aged staffers roll their eyes, and legislators occasionally produce titillating stories. You can see their influence all over town, but my favorite place to watch is of course, outside.

Settle down on a bench in Heritage Park just before noon for the best viewing. The staffers stream out in ones and twos. Carefully winding their way down the switchbacks from the Capitol Dome. The ladies in their skirts and sensible tennis shoes, the runners trying to get in a few miles, a few men - mostly younger ones trailing their attractive female colleagues for some brownie points. Occasionally, you'll see a legislator in the flesh. You can identify them by the vague look, repeated blinking and constant reaching for their phones. They are completely out of their element and very entertaining to watch. On very nice days some of these wanderers take on a historical air, reminiscent of the Victorian era when taking a turn about the garden was a social norm and a way to be seen. They promenade slowly, gossiping and strategizing. On our less lovely spring days it's all business. Only the serious walkers brave less than perfect sunshine.

Heritage Park and Capitol Lake are great to visit for more than just the people watching. An abundance of ducks provides ample opportunity to impersonate David Attenborough with your own narration of their activities, and the dog watching is always entertaining. Where else would you find a Chihuahua dressed as an Ewok in March? (True story. Saw it on my last visit.) And the scenery is stunning. From one side of the lake you can admire the Capitol Dome, from the other the Olympic Mountains peek out at you.

The path around the lake is wide and lined with numerous benches. The Heritage Park section of the lake has a stonewall separating the path from the lake, which features markers representing each of the state's counties. I found it fun to read them and be reminded about the rest of our great state. Pend Orielle County anyone? The 1.7 mile loop around the main lake takes you through the aforementioned Heritage Park, as well as Marathon Park. An extension of the trail follows Deschutes Parkway down to the Interpretive Center. This is a great place to learn about wetlands and habitat.

The future of Capitol Lake is a bit uncertain. Currently it receives a large amount of sediment from the river feeding it. Thus, the lake is slowly filling with sediment and growing shallower every year. Many solutions - from dredging to restoring the natural estuary - have been discussed but nothing has been decided. Between financial, environmental, and community concerns, there seems to be little common ground.

But none of these concerns impact your ability to enjoy viewing the wildlife and the political operatives in their natural habitat. So grab a coffee or some lunch downtown (I recommend the Bread Peddler) and sit back to enjoy the show.

Capitol Lake

Fifth Avenue Southwest and Water Street
Olympia, WA 98501