East Lake Sammamish Trail officially opens on March 21, 2006.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 9/20/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7956
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On March 21, 2006, after years of controversy and litigation delays, King County officially opens the central seven miles of the East Lake Sammamish Trail. The 11-mile trail runs from the end of the Sammamish River Trail in Redmond to Issaquah along a former Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad line that the company stopped using a decade earlier. The opening increases the overall length of the County's regional trail system for bicycling, hiking, walking, skateboarding, and other non-motorized transportation to more than 175 miles.

King County bought the abandoned rail line in 1998 for $2.9 million from the Cascade Land Conservancy, which had acquired the right-of-way and fought two federal court appeals to preserve it as a future trail. The County intended to add the link to its growing system of non-motorized trails, acting under the Federal Rails to Trails Act that allows railroads to transfer unneeded rights-of-way to be used as trails. County officials announced plans to open an interim gravel trail by 1999 but they proved overly optimistic.

Homeowners Object

Owners of some of the expensive lakefront homes along the seven-mile-long middle portion of the proposed trail objected vociferously to the County's plans. They claimed that opening the right-of-way to public trail-use would violate their privacy and bring crime to the area. Opponents filed more than 20 lawsuits challenging the trail. Some homeowners also built fences, dug ditches, and planted flowerbeds on the right-of-way to obstruct the planned trail.

The City of Sammamish granted a permit for the trail in 2002 but opponents appealed. They also brought a federal lawsuit challenging the conversion of the rail right-of-way to a public trail. The litigation finally ended in 2005 when the Cascade Land Conservancy and another pro-trail group, Friends of the East Lake Sammamish Trail, prevailed in the federal lawsuit and opponents did not appeal the final permits.

The County, which in 2004 had been able to open short sections of the gravel trail at either end, in Redmond and Issaquah, began constructing the crucial central section along the Lake Sammamish shore in the summer of 2005. The $1.6 million gravel path is an "interim trail" that the County eventually intends to pave with asphalt. The completed interim trail was supposed to open in January 2006, but heavy rain pushed back the long-delayed opening one more time.

Open at Last

By March the trail was in use. The official opening ceremony was held on Tuesday, March 21, 2006, with County Executive Ron Sims, Sammamish Mayor Michele Petitti, and other officials and trail advocates on hand. Earlier, Sims had said of the trail, "This is a treasure ... . Years from now, no one will remember the fight." Homeowners who had opposed the trail continued to worry about its consequences, but also planned to use the trail themselves.

With the opening, a non-motorized trail stretched all the way from Issaquah to Ballard, with only a few minor gaps, along the East Lake Sammamish, Sammamish River, and Burke-Gilman trails. And that nearly 40-mile stretch was only a portion of the King County Park System's regional trail network, which totaled more than 175 miles of recreational trail.

Sources: Sonia Krishnan, "East Lake Sammamish Trail Opens With Crowd, Fanfare," The Seattle Times, March 22, 2006, p. B-3; Krishnan, "New Trail Finally Opening," Ibid., March 18, 2006, pp. A-1, A-10; "East Lake Sammamish Trail Timeline," Ibid., p. A-10; "Regional Trails Overview," King County Parks website accessed September 19, 2006 (http://www.metrokc.gov/parks/trails).

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