Welcome to Angle Lake, light rail passengers | KUOW News and Information

Welcome to Angle Lake, light rail passengers

Sep 21, 2016

A new light rail station opens at Seatac’s Angle Lake this weekend. 

A lot of train riders are asking: What’s Angle Lake?

It’s a lake in Seatac that’s shaped like an angle. There’s a park there, and if you want, you can walk there in your swim suit from the train. The park has a checkered past and likely a brilliant future.


In the 1920s and 30s, people took trains and trollies from Seattle to make a picnic beside the lakes beyond town. Angle Lake didn’t have a trolley line, but it did have a couple lakeside resorts that drew visitors from Seattle, as cars further opened up the landscape. Angle Lake had a diving tower you could jump off for a dime. 

Eventually, the resort became a public park. But in the 1980s, the park developed a reputation. People stopped bringing their picnic baskets to Angle Lake.

“It was considered like, ‘Oh, don’t go to Angle Lake, it’s a rough park,’” says Lawrence Ellis.

Ellis is director of Seatac Parks and Recreation. He took on the park in the mid 1990s. He said the park, at that time, was not known for recreation. It was known as a place to sell drugs, steal cars and engage in criminal activity.

Lawrence Ellis became the city of Seatac's first parks employee not long after the city incorporated in the early 1990s. He's spent much of his career changing the way people think about Seatac parks like Angle Lake.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Squeezed between I-5 and I-99 and just south of the airport, Angle Lake park had a lot going against it. But where some people saw a park overwhelmed by crime, Ellis saw promise.

“I saw nothing but potential,” he says. “Not too many people in government, particularly in parks and recreation, have the opportunity to put their stamp on something.”

Ellis tore down a big maintenance building that divided the park. That opened things up, eliminating some of the park’s hiding places. He got the police to make regular patrols. He brought in lifeguards, summer concerts, classes, picnic shelters and a spray park for little kids.

“They were starving for recreational activities down here,” he says.

Over time, recreational visitors overwhelmed the drug dealers. Now, people come here to swim or for massive barbecues in the new picnic shelters. Business travelers sit on their suitcases and stare at the lake. It beats sitting at the airport, just one light rail station away.

Teachers Steven Uydess and Angie Erdman at Big Picture High School call for seconds on hot dogs at this class barbecue at Angle Lake.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Out on the dock, retirees sit with their fishing poles. Among them: Tino Rocha, a.k.a. “the fish killer,” who lives nearby for the fishing. Rocha has the words “fear no fish” tattooed on his hands.

“That’s how deep I’m into fishing,” he says. The lake is stocked, and Rocha is serious about unstocking Angle Lake with his fishing pole. He likes to set out two poles – he has a special license for this – one for the fish on the bottom, another for the fish biting on the top.

Sound Transit estimates the new station will dump thousands of riders just a few blocks from this park after work every day.

Ellis of the parks department has prepared himself to deal with the downside of all those visitors: garbage. After the Fourth of July celebration here, it takes Ellis and his crew two days to clean up the mess.

The performance stage at Angle Lake park. When planes fly past (the park is near the airport), Shakespeare in the park performers ad-lib a silent scene, according to Lawrence Ellis.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Light rail could bring crowds to the park more regularly. But Ellis is optimistic: “Just about each time I come down here, I sit back and reflect on what it was before, what it is now, and what it could be in the future,” he says.

Ellis believes he could offer kayak classes, maybe put in a beach volleyball courts. It wasn’t practical before, because there’s little parking. But that’s not a problem if people arrive on light rail and walk to the park.

“I really feel that with Sound Transit that would make this park even better,” Ellis says.

So they have to empty garbage cans a few more times a day. It’s a good problem to have.

Swimmers Damien and Alicia at Angle Lake in Seatac.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

MOHAI director Leonard Garfield says Seattle relied on its recreational hinterlands to function as “the lungs of the city.” 

People of all classes had access to the surrounding landscape, whether they preferred luxury resorts reachable by car or undeveloped lakefronts just a trolley ride away.

But that access came at a cost. Garfield said communities in the early 20th century “invested heavily in transportation that would allow everyone to get anywhere in the region.”

He says it’s remarkable that today, with Seattle only beginning to reach levels of density it had in the 1920s and 30s, a collective investment in mass transit is once again bringing places like Angle Lake into our sphere of accessibility.

UW Researchers Vincent Jobin and Thiago Couto at Angle Lake measuring water levels.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Traveler Vijay Parekh is staying in a hotel near the airport. He's impressed by this trellis at Angle Lake Park.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols