(Published in the Seattle Times online on May 6, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on May 9, 2021)
From up in the air, we get down to the Duwamish earth
By Clay Eals
It’s fitting, perhaps spiritual, that our first use of aerial photography for “Now & Then” showcases the wooded walkways above our city’s only river — a waterway named for the Native American tribe whose early chief is our city’s namesake.
An established public trail lets us walk this hillside and imagine the homeland of the Duwamish people, whose name means “the way in” and who once numbered 4,000 along the river and its tributaries. This, of course, was before Euro-American immigrants brought dominance and disease that decimated the tribe, even burning some members out of their shoreline dwellings.
The older view, from 1920, provides a stunning glimpse of the eastern ridge of West Seattle, fronted by the Duwamish Waterway and precursors of West Marginal Way and the First Avenue South Bridge. At right swirls a U-shaped oxbow created by the river’s recent widening, deepening and straightening. Standing at center is Plant 1 of the fledgling Boeing Airplane Co. (sign on roof). Intruding at far right is the wing of an early biplane, from which the photo was taken rather courageously.
But our focus is on the trail, a new one in the expanded, soon-to-be-published second edition of “Hiking Washington’s History,” a color guidebook detailing 44 hikes statewide, with 12 added treks.
The route, accessed by two trail heads, snakes along a steep slope, which by 1920 had been logged for profit as well as operation of a streetcar line (faintly visible in our “Then” photo) that from 1912 to 1931 crossed the expanse, connecting bridges at Spokane Street to White Center and Burien.
Today, the trail traverses a 500-acre forest buffering two intensive forms of 20th-century development — housing above and industrial glut below. Over time, Seattle Parks acquired most of the greenbelt parcels. West Duwamish Greenbelt Trails volunteers and others regularly replant the land and maintain its path.
To create a matching “Now” image, Jean Sherrard and I literally got a helicopter view in late February, he making stills and I shooting video. Aloft, we quickly appreciated a 1970s city report that called the hillside a potential “gift of peace and quiet in our busy, noisy, polluted city.”
Also ringing true was the insight of guidebook co-author Judy Bentley:
“We hike historic trails for resonance: for connection to the people on the land before us and to a landscape relatively constant across centuries. We also hike out of curiosity: Who went this way before? Where were they going? Who made this trail and why?”
Because we were airborne, there is no 360 video for this week’s installment. But you can see Clay Eals‘ video of the “Now” prospect and above the trail, taken from the helicopter view, and hear him read the column aloud by visiting this video link:
Look below for 21 additional aerial photos by Jean Sherrard that showcase the West Duwamish Greenbelt Trail. In each one, can you spot the temporarily placed white bags that mark the trail route? You may have to click on each photo twice.
Also, look below for video by Matthew Clark of the helicopter from the ground, along with photos and maps provided by the West Duwamish Greenbelt Trails volunteers. We start off with a bonus photo from the same vantage, circa 1966-1967, courtesy of West Seattle’s Bob Carney.
In addition, we salute the volunteers present on the trail during the Feb. 27, 2021, aerial photo shoot, some of whom laid white plastic bags on the trail to make the route visible from the air. They were Judy Bentley, Asa Clark, Christine Clark, Matthew Clark, Mackenzie Dolstad, Alec Duncan, Susan Elderkin, Shannon Harris, Trissa Hodapp, Angela Johnson, Billy Markham, Karen Nelson, Randy Nelson, Antoinette Palmer, Craig Rankin, Hagen Rankin, Leela Rankin, Hans Rikhof, Holly Rikhof, Sarah Ritums, Shawnti Rockwell, Ruth Anne Wallace, Tom Wallace, Paul West and Barbara Williams.