Snoqualmie Valley tunnel awakens with train of bicyclists
A train once again rolled through the 102-year-old Snoqualmie Tunnel on July 9. This train, however, was not composed of boxcars, but of bicyclists.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust hosted approximately 150 people on a 21-mile bike ride down the John Wayne Pioneer Trail as one of its “Explore the Greenway” trips. Bikers were shuttled from Rattlesnake Lake to the Hyak trailhead at Snoqualmie Pass in buses. After finding their bicycles, the participants rode to the mouth of the tunnel and turned on their headlamps.
If it weren’t for the dozens of people in front and behind these bikers at all times, the darkness would be stifling. But on Saturday, the tunnel lit up as though the old Snow Train was returning to Seattle after dropping off a load of skiers.
Construction of the tunnel was completed in 1914 and served The Milwaukee Road until the line was decommissioned in 1980. The Milwaukee Road’s Snow Train brought skiers from Seattle and Tacoma to the Hyak Ski Bowl from 1937 through 1949, until the ski lodge there was destroyed by fire. Round-trip rides cost $1.77 from Seattle and the trip took two hours each way.
Today, it’s free to ride along the railroad. Railroad tracks have been replaced by biker-friendly gravel. The trail, along with 1.5 million acres from the Seattle waterfront to Ellensburg, is conserved thanks to the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, communications manager Margaret Ullman-Hess said. The area encompasses landscapes from urban core to high alpine to eastern deserts.
The Greenway Trust has been bringing together government, business, nonprofits and civic leaders for 26 years with the goal of blending a growing economy with preservation of nature, Ullman-Hess said.
By connecting partners and setting the table to bring them all together, the Greenway Trust tries to unite a common vision and influence policy in Washington, D.C., Olympia and local communities, Ullman-Hess said.
As Microsoft and Boeing expanded in the 1990s, Seattle area’s economy boomed. Many people in the area grew concerned about the fate of the natural areas surrounding the city. People saw what was happening in places like Southern California, where there was no long-term vision for growth, Ullman-Hess said. The result was urban and suburban sprawl and a distance from nature.
“They saw it happening and realized if we didn’t act, we’d lose our connection to nature,” Ullman-Hess said. “The only path to success was by engaging all stakeholders — not just environmentalists, but also timber companies, public land agencies and others.”
In 1990, the group that would soon form the Greenway Trust went on its first Greenway March from Snoqualmie Pass to the waterfront in Seattle. The hike took five days and traveled only along natural paths.
Doug McClelland, who is on the Greenway Trust’s board and volunteers with the organization, was on that first march in 1990, along with his pregnant wife and unborn son. The three of them have been on every march, now known as the Greenway Trek, since then. The treks occur every five years and have expanded to a nine-day trip from Ellensburg to the Seattle waterfront.
McClelland volunteered on the Snoqualmie Tunnel ride July 9, biking with the group and performing first aid, bike repair, tire repair and more. He was one of many volunteers there.
Around 4,000 volunteers help the Greenway Trust with things like events, habitat restoration projects and trail building projects, Ullman-Hess said.
In addition to leading those projects, the group provides in-the-field environmental education to approximately 4,000 students yearly.
One of McClelland’s favorite parts about the Greenway Trust is bringing urban Seattle youth to natural areas.
“They get to connect with the backcountry, the Greenway, the forests and people that they haven’t interacted with a lot,” McClelland said. “They make that connection. That’s what it’s all about.”
Explore the Greenway trips are part of an effort to make that connection. July 9 was Bernie Glaze’s fourth year in a row going on the Snoqualmie Tunnel bike trip. He also participated in the Ellensburg to North Bend biking leg of the nine-day Greenway Trek last year.
He described the 21-mile, shuttled-assisted bike ride as “downhill.” As he traveled down the railroad-grade-descent from Hyak to Rattlesnake, he took in the beautiful natural scenery and trestle bridges, and thought about the people who designed and built the railroad line, he said.
Glaze was joined by his son-in-law Kollen Glynn on the trip. Glynn loves the work that the Greenway Trust does. He said he uses Greenway lands every week.
McClelland believes that each generation needs to leave something behind for the next generation, he said. He is grateful for those who were able to preserve natural areas in Seattle, and he is making his contribution with lands east of the city.
“Greenway is more than a trail or a bike ride,” McClelland said. “It’s a community. It’s the land, it’s the people that are here and it’s how they connect.”