Volunteers, community leaders and area neighbors welcomed the public to Saturday's opening of the Duwamish Hill Preserve in Tukwila. A 10-year project saved this sacred hill from becoming just another industrial site along south 115th Street, just off East Marginal Way South.

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The rocky hilltop near the Duwamish River speaks. It tells the story from the Duwamish and Muckleshoot tribes about the battle between the north and south winds.

Now the hill has a new story of how a community came together to save this piece of land.

Volunteers, community leaders and area neighbors welcomed the public to Saturday’s opening of the Duwamish Hill Preserve in Tukwila. A 10-year project saved this sacred hill from becoming just another industrial site along south 115th Street, off East Marginal Way South.

After climbing 80 steps up the hill, you can look down and imagine the fishing villages that once hugged the Duwamish River. Now, the industrialized world surrounds the hill. In one direction is the Seattle skyline. In another, a trail of cars lines Highway 509. Airplanes roar overhead, light rail sends out high-pitch whines and semi-trucks thunder past.

The eight acres is the site of many Native American stories and also a place full of geological wonders.

The site, estimated to be 40 million years old, is a rocky, bald habitat with thin soil similar to that covering the San Juan Islands.

“You just don’t see a hill in a river valley,” said Hayes Swinney, land stewardship director for Cascade Land Conservancy which helped obtain the property. “This hill is older than Mount Rainier. There are marine fossils. This, at one point, was underwater.”

In 2000, the hill was going to be blasted apart by dynamite and developed into an industrial area, much like the properties surrounding it. But the community and Cascade Land Conservancy raised about $1 million through donations, contributions and grants for the city of Tukwila to purchase the land.

Even theater students at Foster High School got involved in preserving the site.

In 2002, they wrote and performed a play about the hill and how it had transformed over the decades. They donated $1,200 in ticket sales, said Cynthia Chesak, the theater teacher and a Tukwila arts commissioner.

“For me, it’s a landmark — it’s a cultural site,” she said. “You can’t divorce the Native American site from Tukwila.”

By 2006, volunteers started clearing the land, but with decades of neglect, the property needed help. Stacy Cachules, manager of volunteer programs for the Cascade Land Conservancy, organized efforts to clear blackberry bushes, ivy and trash.

“It started as an uphill process,” she said. “It was such a mess, but the volunteers kept coming.”

On the weekends, a few volunteers who called themselves “Friends of the Hill” would cut away brush and haul away trash, tires, metal scrap and old cars. Others dug into the rocky earth and put native plantings along the path. Soon benches, trails and a storytelling area were built.

Last year, dozens of people volunteered more than 2,000 hours.

“You have to have knowledge of the past to help shape our future,” said Tukwila council member Joan Hernandez.

For upcoming volunteer opportunities at the Duwamish Hill Preserve go to www.cascadeland.org/events

Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or cwillmsen@seattletimes.com