IT’S FITTING, PERHAPS SPIRITUAL, that our first use of aerial photography for “Now & Then” showcases the wooded walkways above Seattle’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.
You can find this path, called the West Duwamish Greenbelt Trail, along superimposed yellow lines in our “Then” and “Now” photos.
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 “Hiking Washington’s History,” a color guidebook detailing 44 hikes statewide, with 12 added treks.
The route, accessed by two trailheads, 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 got a helicopter view in late February, with him taking photographs and me 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?”