Growing up here in Washington it seems like there were always woods just around the corner to explore. Many days were spent roaming the woodlands with a stick sword in hand, and a pocket full of pinecones with which to fight the perpetual pinecone war that raged throughout my youth.
The local wetlands were like our own private Amazon jungle in which we captured treefrogs, pollywogs and garter snakes for our pickle jar menageries.
In one large tract of forest nearby my cousins house in Lake Stevens we even found an old cabin and a machete!
That rusted old blade was like Excalibur to us!
Anyway, nowadays most, if not all of those places I knew are gone, paved over in the name of progress.
Suburbs, strip malls and shareholder returns have replaced ferns, swamps and Douglas fir, and some of those developers had real senses of humor. A little swamp where we used to cut cat-tails at, was filled in long ago and replaced by a development called “Starlight Pond”, seriously, you can’t make stuff like that up!
Well before I go too far on a rant…..
Once in awhile someone had the foresight to set aside some of these suburban wildlands for future generations to enjoy, and one of them I recently discovered is McGarvey Park Open Space.
McGarvey Park offers over 400 acres of open space with miles of trail though various terrain and ecosystems. Not only that, but the park also offers a “summit” of sorts; Cedar (Echo) Mountain coming in at a modest 896′.
The park is also home to much wildlife, during my visit I was serenaded by a multitude of bird species and there always seemed to be a chorus of frog song somewhere in the distance. At one point a pair of red-tailed hawks screeched as they soared high above.
Many small streams cross the property, with the occasional little bridge spanning the distance.
The area is abundant in a variety of flora as well, from mixed conifer forest, alder dominated wetlands, and everything in between.
The area was logged a few times spanning the late 1800s, the 1930s and the 1960s, and because of logging/reforestation practices of those times, not many of the conifers are particularly old. However a few old timers do exist here and there.
Another result of reforestation practices of those times (or lack thereof) is that certain overall forest characteristics are a bit unbalanced, but King County is working hard at trying to remedy this over the next few decades.
Also of historical interest was McGarvey Park’s coal mining past. The New Black Diamond Mine operated here from 1884 to 1939. Certain portions of the park are underlain with long disused tunnels, but these are not accessible and do not pose a threat to public safety. Initially my only clue to coal mining here was along one section of trail where bits of coal were visible along the grade.
Perhaps the biggest attraction of McGarvey Park is the Cedar (Echo) Mountain summit. While only standing 896′ above sea level, it provides a lovely view of Mt.Rainier and peeks at Lake Desire when climbing up the western flank. This would make a great first “summit” for those just getting into hiking or for kids.
Trails also wind around the NE summit of Cedar (Echo) Mountain, offering views of the Issaquah Alps, but the actual high point is never reached by trail.
The trails here are open to equestrian and mountain bike use as well, with a few exceptions such as the “Peak Trail”.
There are many ancillary trails throughout the park meandering all about, in addition to the acres and acres of woodland and wetland. I’m sure you’ll find something new with each visit.
Neighboring Spring Lake/ Lake Desire Park offers an additional 390 acres of open space and trails with limited shore access and a boat launch.
The Wetland-14 Natural area (awesome name, no?) to the north affords even more open space, but not much in the way of trails at the time of this writing.
I can honestly say that for me this place really spoke to that kid that has never grown up inside. It’s really a place you can freely wander, and really feel like you are far away from the world, yet still in your own backyard.
The frogs that fell silent in the paved over swamps of my youth sing joyfully here, and there really exists a sense of nostalgia and wonderment of those woodlands now gone. Who knows, you might just find yourself brandishing a stick sword as you walk along these winding paths, whistling the songs of days long past.
McGarvey Park can be accessed by any number of points. Some of which even offer a handy-dandy free map, which I found to be a great help.
Driving directions from wta.org :
From I-405 either northbound or southbound in Renton take exit 4 onto Renton-Maple Valley Road (State Route 169). Follow Renton-Maple Valley Road east towards Maple Valley for a little over 2 miles and turn right onto 140th Way SE. In 2 miles turn left on Petrovitsky Road. Follow for 1.6 miles and turn left on Parkside Way SE. Follow for 0.6 miles and turn right on Woodside Drive SE. Follow Woodside Drive for 0.3 miles and turn left on West Lake Desire Drive SE. Follow for 0.3 miles and turn left on 174th Ave SE. In about 0.2 miles the trail crosses the road and this is where we will meet. (Driving time from Seattle: approximately 50 minutes.)
Spring Lake/ Lake Desire directions from King County pamphlet:
From the Maple Valley Hwy, SR-169, or SE Petrovitsky Rd, take 196th Ave SE, the SE 183rd St to E Spring Lake Dr. Follow around the lake to the trailhead at the end of West Spring Lake Dr SE.