History and Culture
The heritage of the Mountains to Sound Greenway surrounds us, from Native American tribes’ deep connections to the land, to the eyes of geologists examining mineral deposits, to museum volunteers collecting oral histories of longtime residents, to residents who care for this diverse and beautiful place.
The history of the people and land within the Greenway is a fascinating tale stretching back thousands of years. It’s also a story without end; the same vigorous forces of humans and the natural environment continue to this day to interact, and to shape the unique environment and distinctive quality of life here.
The First People
Ancestors of contemporary tribal members in the region have lived in this landscape for thousands of years; in fact, archaeological evidence dates continuous human settlement in this region to at least 14,000 years ago. The Snoqualmie, Muckleshoot, Tulalip, Yakama, and Suquamish tribes as well as the Duwamish people were active in present-day King and Kittitas County, and maintain traditional knowledge of how to subsist from the land and stories of how this landscape came to be. The Snoqualmie People revere Snoqualmie Falls, or Sqwəd in Lushootseed, as the sacred site where heaven and earth meet. As the cascading water plunges from the towering river above, the impact below creates a spiral of ascending mist. That rising mist carries prayers, hopes, and dreams to the Creator. In 2009 the Falls were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property. Rattlesnake Ridge (dx̌aclbac) and Mount Si (qʷalbc), whose solitary jutting structure and human-like rock face give it a commanding presence over the valley, play a role in the Story of the Moon. These stories and the physical landscape are inextricably linked; the surrounding landscape holds a special spiritual meaning passed down through oral tradition.
There are many present-day opportunities to learn more about tribal heritage in Washington. The Snoqualmie Tribe, for example, conserves a Traditional Knowledge Trail with interpretation of traditional ecological knowledge and native plants and their uses. The Duwamish host art galleries, workshops, and demonstrations at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center in Seattle. The Suquamish Museum hosts events and exhibits, and Old Man House State Park contains the archaeological remains of the village where Chief Seattle was born, and visitors can see Chief Seattle’s gravesite in Suquamish. On the Tulalip’s reservation, the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve features exhibits, a longhouse, and a research library.
Logging and Mining
Natural resource extraction was the first economic pursuit of the immigrants that came to America beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1880s, temporary logging railroads were built into the woods so that loggers could transport timber to lumber mills in Preston and Snoqualmie in the west, or to mills on the shores of Cle Elum, Kachess and Keechelus lakes in Kittitas County. Logging took place throughout the corridor, and while magnificent stands of old growth do remain, much of the Greenway contains second- and third-growth forests. A major lumber mill at the company town of Snoqualmie ran from 1917, when World War I created a great demand for timber, until its closure in 2003.
Coal mining became a major industry in Roslyn and Cle Elum east of the mountains, and in Newcastle and Issaquah west of the mountains. People came from all over the world to work in the mines, and in Roslyn, while miners worked and socialized together, they lived in their own neighborhoods and were buried in ethnically segregated cemeteries that can still be visited today.
East of the mountains, members of the Yakama Indian Nation historically gathered camas roots, kouse and berries. European immigrants’ arrival caused the displacement of native people and brought wheat, hay, and cattle ranches to the area. Farmers in the Yakima Valley face challenges especially in ensuring availability of water for sustainable agriculture in balance with salmon and wildlife habitat preservation.
West of the mountains, Bellevue and nearby areas were known for berries and other crops. The fertile Snoqualmie Valley was billed as the “Largest Hop Ranch in the World” in the 1880s, and employed Native Americans as well as people from all over the world. Today the farmlands in the Snoqualmie Valley face a number of challenges including development pressures, flooding and draught, and high costs of farm operations. Contemporary residents place great value on keeping viable farmland, notably by voters passing the Farmland Preservation Program in 1979, as well as King County’s Local Food Initiative and the new Savor Snoqualmie Valley initiative that connects communities, farms, water quality and wildlife habitat in this magnificent river basin.
Trails across the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie Pass have existed for thousands of years. The ancestors of Native American tribes and peoples that crossed the mountains on ancient foot trails to trade and socialize. Native guides led the first US military surveys through the mountain passes in the 1850s as they searched for suitable routes for wagon roads and railroads.
The wagon road over Snoqualmie Pass looked a bit different in 1911 than Interstate 90 does today. The first wagons crossed Snoqualmie Pass in 1865, the same year that Seattle residents raised money to build a road from North Bend over the pass. In 1899, the road was in such disrepair that the Washington State legislature and the governments of King and Kittitas counties decided to fund work to repair it. The Sunset Highway was built across the Cascades in 1914-1915, allowing cars to travel across regularly, although travelers on the dirt road had to contend with mud, rocks, and fallen trees. In 1934, the highway was paved and the first floating bridge was built over Lake Washington in 1940.
The Milwaukee Road railway built tracks in 1909 that connected the Puget Sound region to the transcontinental railroad over Snoqualmie Pass. In 1917 the route through the Cascades was electrified, which was more efficient than using steam or diesel power. Trains stopped running in 1980 and the rail bed was turned into the cross-state John Wayne Pioneer Trail, as part of the Washington State Park system.
Today’s citizens and transportation planners seek to reconnect natural lands and communities by trail.
Turning to Conservation
As population in Washington State grew in the 20th Century, people started to realize that the special places they took for granted wouldn’t remain without effort. Cleanup of Lake Washington began in the 1960s with the Forward Thrust bond issue. Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market in Seattle were saved from demolition in the 1970s, and the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Rail right of way was converted to the Burke-Gilman Trail around the north end of Lake Washington. In 1976, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, between Interstate 90 and Highway 2, was created. The Mount Si Natural Resource Conservation Area, just northeast of North Bend, was established in 1987. In the 1980s, Washington State Department of Natural Resources began consolidating forestland for public benefit on Tiger Mountain, which is now a 14,000-acre expanse of working and protected forestland. At the same time, citizen advocates like Harvey Manning and Jack Hornung started talking about permanently saving the Issaquah Alps, the forested slopes of Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains.
With these and many more preservation projects underway, the completion of a new bridge over Lake Washington on Interstate 90 was rapidly bringing population to eastern King County. In 1990, a group of citizens, led by the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, staged the ‘Mountains to Sound March’, a hike from Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle, to publicize the need to save this magnificent scenic corridor just outside a major metropolitan area. And the Mountains to Sound Greenway was born.