Two Faces of the Duwamish River

The winter in Seattle was good for paddling and by Spring I had already explored much of the area that could be reached from South Lake Union without portage, including some of the western shore of Lake Washington, north and south from Montlake.

So one Tuesday in April we loaded the Ikkuma on the car from its berth on Lake Union for the very first time and Alex dropped me off at a spot in South Park called simply Duwamish Waterway, promising to pick me up later if I rang.

I wanted to see if I could get a ways upstream first.  An earlier start would have made this part of the trip quicker:  high water in Elliott Bay slows the river’s current.  Nonetheless, a couple of hours later I found myself four miles south at Codiga Park on the eastern shore, which I figured would make a good place to stop and have lunch.The beach at the foot of Codiga Park viewed from upstream.This view downstream was taken during a bicycle trip a few days later, from one of the three wooden shelters standing on the other side of the river.  The land is a former dairy farm that escaped development and has been enhanced as wildlife habitat.  It’s a fitting place for sea creatures, since a side channel has been excavated to make a safe place for juvenile salmon.  More visible to human visitors are the ospreys that have claimed the nesting platforms provided high above, the occasional great blue heron, and the crows that meet on the beach every day to discuss current events.

Above this point, past a golf course and a couple of casinos, at Fort Dent, now a Tukwila city park devoted largely to soccer, the river loses its name to the longer Green River and enters a complex and fascinating hydrological history. The fort was at the confluence with the Black River, which was the outlet of Lake Washington before the lake level was lowered by the Montlake Cut.  The Cedar River, which had emptied into the Black, now flows directly into the lake.  In the nineteenth century, this stretch of the Green would have been called the White River; but following a major flood in 1906 the White no longer joins the Green, finding its way instead to the Puyallup, which flows to Commencement Bay in Tacoma.  The original inhabitants may have considered the Cedar-Black-Duwamish to be the one river into which the others flowed.

I may try someday to make my way further upstream, and Codiga Park would be a fine starting place, boasting a good parking lot and dependable sanitation. The Green River Trail, at least, is navigable all the way to Kent, with bus and even railroad stops along the way, and we have seen much of the river from our bicycles.

It was on the way back downstream that I had many of my wildlife encounters, including a Bald Eagle who swooped down to the riverbank and then back up to his perch as I passed, and my first Canada Goslings this year.  In the morning I had not been surprised to see three little bunnies amid the brambles near the water.  We glimpse them on the upland side, mostly near the big USPS facility, descendants doubtless of pet-store stock liberated at King County’s Cecil Moses Park.

Neither the bunnies nor the brambles are native.  The Himalayan blackberries that carpet much of this area, though now virtually iconic, are considered invasive as well, and the work of conservation groups largely involves grubbing them out and replacing them with indigenous plant species.  The luscious fat berries in August and September will be missed, but I agree that there’s no point in having a patch of these more than a dozen feet wide anywhere.  You’re not going to get the berries in the middle no matter how much you want them.

Cecil Moses Park is a popular stop on the trail for its plumbing and I paused there on both legs of my journey, landing the second time on the east bank at the end of the footbridge.  Paddlers are not expected here though and mud may render both options undesirable.

The trip downstream was quicker despite a little headwind.  I floated by my launch site and then another three miles or so, down to Terminal 105, a  nicely landscaped park provided by the Port of Seattle with a little overlook and a hand-carry launch site.  Along the way the river began to look more urban overall, though official landing spots become if anything more frequent.View of the Duwamish downstream from South ParkHere’s a view of the new South Park Bridge.  The old one was deemed unsafe several years ago and for a while the neighborhood was hard to get to by car, but the bridge was eventually replaced.  Within its arch we see the First Avenue Bridge too, carrying State Route 99, just closing.  Both spans would open for the fishing boat Ocean Storm,  whose crew waved as we passed.

One other site on the western shore is worthy of mention.  Where Terminal 107 should be, there is a park instead, saved when construction revealed important human artifacts.  There are trees, grass, nice beaches and, across the street, the Longhouse and Cultural Center of the Duwamish Tribe,  from whose great leader Sealth the city of Seattle gets its name.  Not to mention a lot of its real estate.

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