January + February 2010 » Washington Trails
Coal Creek Trail
The top section of Coal Creek Trail packs a lot of mining and railroad history into a short distance. From Red Town parking, cross Lake- mont Boulevard to reach the trailhead. In the grassy field, the concrete ruins you see under a tree are remnants of the Coal Creek Hotel’s boiler room.
Descend the Coal Creek Trail, and you imme- diately encounter an awesome cave. It’s actu- ally an air shaft into an old mine, the bottom of which is 518 feet below sea level. This is also an important site for railroad buffs. Right across the creek was the terminus of the 21-mile Se- attle & Walla Walla Railroad. Built in the 1870s, Seattle’s first railroad hauled coal from these mines to Elliott Bay, a highly profitable venture that streamlined coal distribution up and down the Pacific Coast. Pause to read about the rail- road at the kiosk, then continue down the trail.
In the pasture above, you can see brick piles from the generator house, which used steam to power electric generators that provided elec- tricity. Go down the steps, and you pass the concrete foundations of the steam plant itself. Don’t trip on the bricks embedded in the trail! A small bridge on the left provides access to the railroad terminus, but there’s nothing to see, so stay on the main trail and cross the next bridge. Between the two bridges, notice that the steep hillside across from you is eroding into the creek, which long ago wiped out this sec- tion of railroad bed.
so far. Mine cars from Ford Slope dumped their loads into the tops of the bunkers, which in turn dropped sorted ore into railroad cars.
Next, follow the short spur to the right, and you’ll see a row of planks across the bottom of Coal Creek. These amazingly preserved 12-inch x 12-inch planks date from the 1880s; they were part of a box flume created to keep the creek from washing out the railroad grade. (A problem that persists to this day; the trail had to be rebuilt in Summer 2009 due to the creek’s shenanigans.)
As you continue down the trail, note that it remains on a nice flat bench (courtesy of the former railroad), while the creek drops into an increasingly steep gorge. Along the way, you’ll pass the sites of former orchards and gardens, and, uphill on a flat, the location of the old Newcastle school (built 1914, burned 1969). Once you cross the second bridge, look down—you’re walking on coal eroded from the nearby seam. Watch for lumps of coal as you walk this section of trail, which now follows the old railroad grade. Next to the bridge you’ll see a large post with white paint and the number 20: this was the number of miles from the rail- road’s origin on the Duwamish River. North Creek Falls on the Coal Creek Trail. At about 0.6 mile, look on your left for a side trail leading to a concrete pad. This was the site of the locomotive turntable, which had the machinery to turn huge train engines 180 de- grees, enabling trains to go back and forth from Coal Creek to Elliott Bay. By now, you’ve probably noticed North Creek Falls. In winter, the falls are whitewater, but in summer, the rock and creekbed are stained a colorful orange, thanks to iron salts leached from the coal seam. Just past the protruding spur (mine waste) on the trail’s south side, look up the hillside and see if you can spot concrete footings from the coal bunkers. They are much more visible in winter, and I’ve counted four You can follow this trail all the way to Coal Creek Parkway (3 miles), but I usually turn around at the “twisty bridge” just beyond the turntable, making it a leisurely 1.3 miles. t
Check out - but don’t fall into - this air shaft near the Coal Creek Trail.
Read The Authori- tative Guide to the Hiking Trails of Cougar Moun- tain, published by Issaquah Alps Trails Club. Originally co- authored by Harvey Manning, it provides a wealth of informa- tion on the history and natural resources of Cougar Mountain.
Take a longer hike on Cougar Mountain and you’ll see even more mining relics.
See www.wta.org/ cougarhistory to read about more great hikes departing from the Sky County Trail- head.