Members of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust — a loosely knit group of hikers, stewards of public and private lands, business people and just plain folks who love the...

Share story

Mountains, forest and hiking trails stretch along Interstate 90 for miles. In fact, the 100-mile section of I-90 encompassed by the Mountains to Sound Greenway, from Seattle to the Kittitas County town of Thorp, is a National Scenic Byway, a rare designation for an interstate highway.

Members of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust — a loosely knit group of hikers, stewards of public and private lands, business people and just plain folks who love the outdoors — have worked for the past 13 years to ensure that this portion of the state maintains its natural appeal and its signature evergreens.

They’re almost done with their work protecting more than 125,000 acres near I-90. It began with their first effort in 1993, a public acquisition along the crest of Rattlesnake Mountain at North Bend. The 1,800 acres, formerly owned by Weyerhaeuser, became a conservation site now jointly owned by King County and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It inspired other conservation efforts to the east and west, molding the Greenway into its final form. With much of the 100-mile corridor protected from further urban development in one fashion or another, the Trust decided it was time to celebrate.

Cody the dog leads Emily Hauser of Kirkland up Rattlesnake Ledge Trail, closely followed by Lindsay Wilcox of Bellevue. The popular trail on Rattlesnake Mountain near North Bend is one of the many “roadside attractions” along the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

They’ve created a new event, planned to be an annual celebration: Greenway Discovery Days.

They’ve persuaded towns and parks along the Greenway to host events tomorrow through Tuesday highlighting the special relationship Northwesterners have with their landscape.

The festivities, ranging from a relay race down the mountains to a scavenger hunt for clues from Seattle to Thorp, are meant to bring awareness to the Greenway and educate the public on the need for future stewardship.

“Instead of having I-90 turn into a strip city, which any major highway tends to do, we’ve got a wonderful wilderness and recreation area,” said Nancy Keith, executive director of the Greenway Trust.

How it all started

The Trust began in 1990 with a group of concerned citizens hiking for five days from Snoqualmie Pass summit to the Seattle waterfront. Their attempt to get public attention for conserving land along I-90 expanded over the years.

Some Greenway sights require a close-up look: a drop of moisture on a salal blossom.

The Trust, now a 64-person board, includes members from transportation departments, municipalities, environmental groups, Weyerhaeuser, Boeing, Puget Sound Energy and Microsoft. Together they crafted compromises protecting the forested lands along I-90. With the help of the Trust’s planning, the U.S. Forest Service, DNR, counties or cities buy sites otherwise threatened by urban development. The land parcels may be set aside for conservation or working forestry (used for timber harvesting, wildlife habitat and recreation).

The Trust’s plan created swaths of working forest from properties formerly owned by companies such as Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek Timber. Some of that forest is now managed by DNR or the Forest Service. Other portions became city, county and state parks.

Greenway pullout section

Get our four-page pullout about Greenway Discovery Days in today’s Northwest Weekend section of the Seattle Times newspaper.

The Trust also focused on connecting hiking and biking trails from Puget Sound at Alki Beach across the Cascades to Thorp, about 8 miles west of Ellensburg. Few gaps are left in this initial 100 miles, and many hope the trails will someday stretch continuously to the Idaho border.

Now comes the fun part, enjoying all the hard work and exploring the hidden treasures and historic places along the Greenway, according to Keith.

“The goal of this thing is to get people to understand that there is a Greenway,” said Keith. “It’s not just I-90.”

A scavenger hunt Saturday and Sunday will lure visitors to explore the Greenway. Participants will collect stamps at communities along the corridor to be eligible for prizes.

For a “passport” listing the 10 sites, visit one of the information booths in Mercer Island, Bellevue, Issaquah, Snoqualmie Point View Park, Snoqualmie Pass, Cle Elum or Thorp. Or you can print it from Each of the passport sites will have a poster with information about the community and a clue about the Greenway. Visitors may use answers from the clues to form an anagram. Unjumble the letters to get a shot at the prizes.

Helen Henry, creator of the scavenger hunt, said, “I have noticed through the years that (the city) hasn’t been sprawling as much as I thought (it would) along the Greenway. I appreciate that I only have to drive 20 minutes to go on a wonderful hike.”

She was asked to create the scavenger hunt after a friend attended “The Great Oreo Cookie Hunt” that she and her husband hosted one Christmas. Guests were sent skittering all over Seattle searching for hidden plastic Oreos.

Though participants won’t be hunting Oreos, Henry nevertheless hopes people will take the time to stop and explore the communities and sites along the Greenway during the hunt.

Besides, part of the grand prize is edible. The winner of the scavenger hunt will receive two nights at the Salish Lodge & Spa at Snoqualmie Falls, a dinner, two breakfasts, two visits to the spa and the use of a Lexus for three days to explore the Greenway.

The way things were

Historical treasures such as the South Cle Elum Depot offer their own sort of prize to visitors: a memory of time elapsed.

Mountain greenery on a tree near North Bend.

“There’s nothing like this in the whole length of the Milwaukee railroad (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railway) from Chicago to Seattle,” said Louis Musso, a Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust board member from Cle Elum. “Cle Elum was so economically stagnant for so long, a great many of our historic buildings didn’t get torn down because nobody else needed the land.”

The renovated depot will be dedicated on Sunday with ribbon-cutting, wagon rides and tours. Colleen Hawley, a ranger at Lake Easton State Park, 15 miles west of Cle Elum, has worked with others to renovate the depot for the last five years. She was the original trail ranger for the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, part of which runs through the state park, in 1984 when the state was given its first 25 miles of the old Milwaukee Road right of way. Now the hiking trail stretches more than 100 miles where the track once lay from Cedar Falls, near North Bend, through the 2.3-mile Snoqualmie Tunnel to the Columbia River.

Greenway Discovery Days is using the John Wayne Pioneer Trail to its fullest potential. Organizers have created a Mountains to Sound Adventure Relay presented by REI.

Craig Philips and son Benjamin of Mercer Island make their way up Rattlesnake Ledge Trail.

There are six legs, each a different type of racing, and contestants can enter as teams or do it solo. Proceeds from the entry fee ($40 to $60) will go to support the Greenway.

“A lot of people do these races because they want to be a winner and they want to win prizes, but getting a lot of these people out there to see some of the recreation opportunities, that’s the goal,” said Will Chin, REI events administrator.

The relay begins at the Hyak trailhead near Snoqualmie Pass along the John Wayne trail. Athletes will ride mountain bikes, paddle canoes and run to the finish line about 53 miles west in Issaquah.

At the end of their relay, they will find the “Concert for the Greenway” as jazz and bluegrass bands and other musicians perform at Issaquah’s city park, 301 Rainier Blvd. S.

Because of the Greenway, one thing is pretty certain: No matter where visitors head for Greenway Discovery Days, they won’t have to look far to see mountains, trees and reminders of why Washington is called the Evergreen State.

Jennifer Lloyd: