January + February 2010 » Washington Trails
Hike in History
Hit the mother lode at Cougar Mountain
When winter shuts down hiking in the high country, I look to the Issaquah Alps for my inspira- tion. I have a special affection for Cougar Mountain, and not just because it’s on my Newcastle doorstep. With 3,082 acres and 36 miles of trails that can be combined in a variety of ways, Cougar offers something for my every mood: a brisk morning run, a short hike between raindrops, or an all- day adventure in the backcountry.
In winter, when Cougar’s lush landscape lies dormant, clues to the area’s human history are revealed. Bricks mired in muddy trails, crumbling foundations covered in moss and ferns, collapsed mine shafts sprouting saplings and salmonberry—all are remnants of Cougar’s days as a major sup- plier of Pacific Coast coal.
The Ford Slope ex- hibit, a fascinating piece of history
All text and photos by Abby Wolfe.
The discovery of coal deposits on Cougar Mountain in 1863 transformed Seattle from a sleepy village to the economic center of Puget Sound. Coal miners worked these hills for 100 years (1863 - 1963), tunneling 6 miles under the mountain and later strip-mining its surface. They hauled out 11 million tons of bituminous coal and left behind mountains of mining debris. Seattle’s first railroad was built to haul coal from Cougar Mountain to Elliott Bay piers, and when President Hayes visited Seattle in 1880, the highlight was his train ride and tour of the Newcastle mines.
Once the mining ceased, suburbia began to encroach. Conservation activist and guidebook author Harvey Manning recognized Cougar Mountain’s natural and historical value. Thanks largely to Manning’s efforts, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park was created in 1985, permanently preserving its rich heritage. Surrounded by Bellevue, Issaquah and Newcastle, it is the largest urban wildland in the United States and the crown jewel in the King County Parks system.
Abby is a writer and Cougar Mountain volunteer based in Newcastle.