“What’s the right way to go around Green Lake?” Isaac Chirino of Shoreline asked KUOW’s Local Wonder.
Boy, people REALLY care about this one.
People like Carolyn Frost.
In the early 1990s, she and a friend walked the Seattle lake’s 2.8-mile path every morning. But there were these aggressive runners, according to Frost, and they would yell, “TRAIL!” forcing her and her friend out of the way.
Read blog posts about Green Lake and you’ll find similar gripes. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has spent time in Seattle. We are a city that loves its rules – we wear our helmets, we wait at crosswalks, we rarely honk our horns. We are, after all, a city that had garbage inspectors for a while.
But online comment threads also include complaints about Green Lake know-it-alls, who seem to revel in schooling the rest of us.
Frost was one of these marmish types. She was a working mom of three who didn’t have much extra time, but she was so frustrated by the Green Lake scene that she started taking photographs of people she believed were going the wrong way.
“We’re not just some lunatics,” Frost told me by phone. “We just could not understand why people did not follow the rules at Green Lake.”
Photos as proof, she called the parks department for a meeting. But officials there dismissed her. That ticked her off.
“When you call your government and you get absolutely nothing back from them, not even the courtesy, ‘We’re glad you brought this problem to our attention,’ you start wondering,” Frost said.
Frost became convinced – still is, in fact – of a government conspiracy.
A pause to note that that these walkers and runners were not going the wrong way. Feet may go either direction in the inner lane; wheels must go counterclockwise in the outer lane.
But signage in the early 1990s was confusing. The arrow for cyclists and roller-bladers pointed up; the arrow for feet pointed down. Frost and her friend interpreted that to mean that feet could only move clockwise.
She became so frustrated that she targeted “the runners and their friends.”
Robin Hennes was among them. Then 34, Hennes walked to work every morning by way of Green Lake.
“They would say, ‘Wrong way,’ then, ‘Wrong way, lady,’” Hennes recalled.
“Then it got kinda snarly, and it would be, ‘Can’t read, stupid lady. What’s the matter with you? You can’t find a man? No sex in your life?’”
Seattle nice, they were not.
“They would do odd things like pop out of shrubbery and say, ‘There she is!’” Hennes said. “And then they started taking my picture every day.”
Frost admitted to taking those photos. (She said she still has them at her Puyallup home, for her children to discover after she’s gone.) But she vehemently denies ever jumping out of the bushes.
Hennes continued, “Then they would shake a fistful of keys and me and then they started blasting me with a whistle.”
That whistle, Hennes said, once threw her so off balance that she fell over.
Frost sounded proud of the whistle when we spoke. “Everybody should carry a bear whistle,” she said with a chuckle.
Hennes learned of others being harassed and before long she and five others – including an 80-year-old woman named Margaret Anderson – went to court for a restraining order.
According to the court record, Frost and her friend were banned from the lake for three months.
The next year, city officials said they would improve the path. One of the reasons they gave – conflicts at the park.
Holly Miller, Seattle parks superintendent at the time, said they carefully considered signage.
“We tried to be very intentional about posting the rules and large attractive signs that people could instantly get reminded of what the general directions were,” Miller said.
The signs are clear at Green Lake now – they’re even embedded in bronze in the path. Still, some people don’t follow the rules.
The lake doesn’t have park rangers, which means park-goers must police each other. A friendly comment usually does the trick.
But Miller said some people take the job a little too seriously.
“Because somebody is feeling like they have a little OCD, and they feel like they need to get everyone going in the same direction, or whatever motivates people to do that, I don’t know.”
Matthew Streib is one of these regulars. He roller-skates around the lake twice a week, and he’s become so frustrated with delinquents that he’s bumped into them on purpose. (He has also taken photos of violators, which he has posted to social media.)
“I seem like a jerk when I try to get other people to follow the rules,” Streib said. “But there’s no other way to do it. And the parks department is telling me, ‘You have to do it if you want the rules to be followed.’”
Streib is not the only bossy person at Green Lake. There’s also an older woman in a pink tracksuit who yells “WRONG WAY,” even when it seems everyone is going the right way. And of course those drippingly polite types who shout “ON YOUR RIGHT” to the rest of us slowpokes.
So back to Isaac Chirino from Shoreline – which way to go around Green Lake?
He should follow the signs. And if he goes the wrong way, someone on the path will surely let him know.
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