Green River Trail

Green River Trail Tower.jpg

Over the holidays two Seattle friends invited us to ride the Green River trail with them.  We finished the last drops of our espresso at Sodo’s Macrina Bakery and cycled south along Airport Way passing Boeing Field.  We had no idea of the rich and layered history of the region. Prior to the water engineering efforts of the early 1900’s, the Duwamish Estuary covered more than 5,000 acres of riparian habitat. The estuary, where the fresh water from the river meets the salt water of Puget Sound, was bursting with fish and wildlife, until in 1905, the Duwamish River began the transformation from a meandering 13-mile river to a 5-mile straightened shipping canal.  The tidal flats in Elliot Bay were converted to present day Harbor Island and millions of cubic yards of this soil was dredged and placed along the canal creating the Duwamish Industrial Area.  Today much of the area is covered with office parks and warehouses. Wildlife experts believe only 2% of the natural habitat remains, which has diminished the estuary’s ability to sustain animal life.

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In 1906 the White River was rerouted from its natural flow north toward the Duwamish to instead flow south toward the Stuck and then Puyallup Rivers to Tacoma.  This eliminated much of the constant flooding of the present day Kent valley. It also eliminated the link between the White River and Elliot Bay and cut off the natural spawning route for chinook, coho, chum and pink salmon.  Near Renton, the Cedar River’s natural flow toward Elliot Bay through the Duwamish was cut off in 1911 and re-directed into Lake Washington. Finally, in 1916 the Lake Washington Ship canal was cut through Ballard to the Puget Sound resulting in a 9-foot drop in Lake Washington’s water level.  This drop resulted in the reversal of water flow out of the south tip of Lake Washington through the Cedar and Duwamish rivers to being controlled by the locks installed on the shipping canal. Before all these hydrologic changes, the Kent Valley regularly flooded, recharging groundwater and bringing nutrients to the new habitat for fish and wildlife.  Today, the Cedar River is walled in with continuous levees and in 1962 the Howard Hanson Dam was completed on the Green River putting a stop to the seasonal flooding.  The Valley is now heavily industrialized and the water system is carefully managed for flood control but the Green River Trail system is one of the positives of all these human interventions.

Green River Trail U.S. Coast Survey Duwamish Bay.jpg
Green River Trail Group.jpg

We recommend taking a short detour at Fort Dent east to the Black River Riparian Forest and see Waterworks Gardens by Lorna Jordan. The Gardens function as a water filtration system treating 50 acres of roads, parking lots and hard surfaces of the nearby Wastewater Treatment Plant.  The Gardens combine garden design with wastewater infrastructure and habitat restoration.  Stormwater flows through a series of 11 ponds filtering out contaminants and empties into a wetland providing plant life, microorganisms and wildlife. 

Flooding in Kent Washington 1906.jpg

Once back on the main river trail and travelling south you will wind your way down to Kent’s Green River Natural Resources Area (GRNRA), a 300 acre stormwater management project providing flood control, wildlife viewing and habitat, and recreation paths for the Kent valley. Three towers provide a bird’s eye view of restored wetland habitat. Ongoing efforts over the last 40 years have resulted in major improvements bringing wildlife back to the region. More than 200 species of wildlife have returned and waterfowl use the GRNRA as a stopover point on their migration routes.  

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The cycling trail continues south to Auburn.  However, we turned west at 216th to begin out return trip to Seattle.  The Robert Morris Untitled earthwork provides a welcomed rest stop up a challenging grade.  On the site of a former gravel quarry abandoned in the 1940’s, Morris terraced the edges of the pit emphasizing the scar it had left and installed burned out trees evoking the forest that had started to grow back in the interim. 

We returned to Seattle along the beaches of Three Tree Point, Lincoln Park and Alki Beach Drive.

John Wolters