Washington State Game Commission designates Seattle's Swan Island (or Duck Island), in Green Lake, a wildlife sanctuary in 1956.

  • By Louis Fiset, Green Lake Park Alliance
  • Posted 3/12/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3082
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In 1956, the Washington State Game Commission officially designates Swan Island in Seattle's Green Lake as an animal sanctuary. The Commission renames it the Waldo J. Dahl Game Reserve (after a bird enthusiast who served as superintendent of the Department of Parks and Recreation). Today (2004), the island's more popular name, Duck Island, attests to those currently inhabiting the place. The island is off-limits to human visitors.

The island was constructed in 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to clean up Green Lake and make improvements to it. The lake was partially dredged, and the island was built. Works Progress Administration crews constructed a temporary trestle off the lake's northwest shore to the edge of a cofferdam and pilings. Workers hauled mud along the trestle in countless wheelbarrow loads, creating an island that rose some 10 feet above the water. Swan Island was born.

Not for Swans

In 1937, the Victoria, B.C. Parks Department donated a pair of one-year-old Signet swans in hopes of propagating a permanent population at the new sanctuary. This attempt failed, as did numerous other swan donations made as recently as the late 1970s. For their nesting habitat, swans require shallow waters producing reeds and grasses. Swan Island's steep drop-off prevented such growth; thus, the birds had to nest in vegetation near the shore, exposing themselves and their young to dangers from humans and animals. The Signets did not survive.

Nevertheless, Swan Island or Duck Island has proved a partial success as a wildlife sanctuary. It has served as habitat for other animals, including year-round inhabitants and migratory visitors.


Don Sherwood, "Green Lake," in "Interpretive Essays of the Histories of Seattle's Parks and Playfields," Handwritten bound manuscript dated 1977, Seattle Room, Seattle Public Library.

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