Last week’s Renton Escape . However, many of the casual wanderers of that oft-used trail don’t realize that they’re not following a Cedar River that the first inhabitants of this area would have recognized.
Once upon a time, the Cedar River meandered its way down from Maple Valley and threaded its way lazily down what is today South 4th Street and the surrounding neighborhood. Rather than feeding Lake Washington with its waters, it met up with a shorter river called the Black River around the area of the current Fred Meyer, and the combined river waters flowed to meet the Green, with the resulting confluence referred to as the Duwamish. The Black River served to drain Lake Washington from an area around the Renton Airport, a necessary environmental function before the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
Various factors contributed to the diversion and replumbing of the Cedar, including the young city’s desire for flood control on the mighty Cedar and the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal which required a constant flow of water to maintain the newly-installed Ballard Locks. Between 1910 and 1920, levies were constructed, the Cedar was diverted into a single channel flowing in its present location, and the end of the Cedar was moved to Lake Washington. As a result of this, the Black River’s connection with Lake Washington was severed and it slowly dried up.
There are several accounts available through resources in the and the that detail this process and public reaction to the destruction of a resource that had fed the area for thousands of years. The information detailed above is to explain the unique history of the location for this week’s Renton Escape.
Unbeknownst to many in the area, parts of the Black River still exist, and are today a for an amazing array of wildlife one might not expect to see in an urban setting. Among the more than 50 species of animals found in the 93-acre wilderness are a unique subspecies of great blue heron that are only found in Puget Sound and a single place in BC’s Fraser River Valley. This time of year is perhaps the best time of year to visit the preserve, as the herons have headed back from their winter journeys and starting to rebuild their colonies in the trees and hatch their young. With the trees not having quite finished leafing out, it’s a great time to watch this industrious activity by these giant creatures of the air.
If you go, make sure to bring binoculars. The herons have a large colony tree with multiple nests and a smaller one with just a few, but they’re on the other side of the river remnants, so it’s difficult to get close. Also keep an eye out for another occasional avian resident: a . These two species do not always live in harmony—the eagles find heron young a tasty treat—but it’s amazing to see these birds against the backdrop of urban living. The remaining chunks of river are host to a variety of ducks, small mammals, and yes, more than a couple of mosquitoes during the summer.
The trail through the preserve is about a half-mile from one end to another, on a reasonably flat and wide trail mostly laid with bark. There’s a very small parking area right off of Monster Road—blink and you’ll miss it—but street parking is probably your best bet. One end of the trail is marked with signage explaining the variety of animals that live in the preserve. A local group called Herons Forever is instrumental in the preservation and upkeep of this unique section of Renton’s history. Directions to the preserve can be found on their web site.
For urban wildlife buffs, occasional wanderers, and anyone desiring a short getaway in the middle of a busy day, the Black River Riparian Forest offers a wonderful place to breathe and enjoy a piece of very old Renton History.