Education center coming to North Bend

NORTH BEND _ Images hint of the past in the upper Valley,

remnants of ancient cultures and bustling communities rich in the history of a

bygone era.

Stone tools mark the gathering places of tribes, and old

photographs give mute testimony to the once vital towns of Cedar Falls,

Moncton, Barneston, Taylor, Camp One, Camp Two, Railroad Camp and the

homesteads that threaded them all together.

The land that supported Snoqualmie Valley's advancing

frontier _ more than 90,000 acres _ constitutes the Cedar River

watershed. Today, the land that once produced timber, coal and railroad interests

provides King County with two-thirds of its drinking water. Now under

the management of Seattle Public Utilities, three homes, a few

architectural remnants and the 1905 Seattle City Light hydroelectric plant _ still in

operation _ are the only historic structures remaining.

The watershed has been closed to the public since 1989, when

logging and other public and private land-use practices were permanently halted

to protect the quality of the water that accumulates in Chester Morse

Lake and forms the headwaters of the Cedar River.

But the huge collection of archeological items, photographs and

compilations of oral history will get a new home in July 2001. Construction

is under way on the final phase of the Cedar River Watershed

Education Center, a 9,800-square-foot public information and research center that

is expected to draw more than 30,000 visitors each year.

The center, nestled atop a ridge overlooking the south end of

Rattlesnake Lake, is specifically designed to blend into the landscape with a

low profile. A series of separate structures _ a welcoming room, library,

interpretive area, conference center and hands-on learning laboratory _ will be

connected by functional courtyards and walkways sheltered by

sod-roofed overhangs.

Two-thirds of the $6 million project is being funded by the city

of Seattle, with the remaining $2 million coming from private donations

raised by the non-profit Friends of the Cedar River Watershed.

Harmon House, one of three homes still standing in the old

town of Cedar Falls, currently hosts 4,000 to 10,000 visitors each year,

mostly students.

"We have to operate within seasonal windows and there is

insufficient space, so we have never had the ability to be open and accessible

year-round," said Marie Ruby, learning center project manager for Seattle

Public Utilities. "The new facility will

allow us to be open all year, and we will be able to catalogue our extensive

collection of historic material. We hope to host visitors six days a week."

Three interpretive naturalists and a variable number of volunteers

will staff the center.

The learning experience starts outside, where a meandering stream

wanders the length of the facility. Beginning with a spring, the waterway is

a mini-ecological system with cascades, marsh areas and pools.

The stream passes through a series of outdoor connecting spaces,

small ecosystems themselves that are planted with native vegetation.

Placed in the ring of vine maple trees that surround the center courtyard,

Forest Court, are "rain drums."

Created by Dan Corson, project artist with the Seattle Arts

Commission, the sound of the drums is driven by rainfall. On dry days, an

electronic emitter showers the instruments in patterns that create ancient and

ethnic rhythms.

Root masses woven with hand-blown threads of glass will be

suspended from open-beam ceilings in the welcoming and interpretive

rooms. Also created by Corson, argon gas will emit soft light through the

interwoven materials.

Displays and informational kiosks located in the buildings and around

the grounds will detail Native-American history, wildlife facts and the

influence of railroads, logging and hydroelectric development. Geological

information explaining how Rattlesnake Lake was formed and the damming

of Chester Morse Lake will be prominent. The story of the evolution of

the watershed and how it operates will be told through a series of displays,

lectures and hands-on experiences.

The conference center will seat 130, with a glass-enclosed

"break-out" room for smaller conferences or

focus discussions. School groups will likely comprise the majority of

visitors, but Seattle Public Utilities expects that tribal gatherings,

business groups and teacher retreats will make regular use of the facilities.

A vast collection of historic artifacts and materials will be housed

in the Heritage Research Library, one of two areas of the facility to have

constant temperature and humidity controls. Historic items and records

will be archived for use by students, researchers, historians and the

general public.

In the development stage since 1991, phase one consisted of

moving the access road away from the shore of Rattlesnake Lake, along with

erosion control and the stabilization of damaged environmentally

sensitive areas.

"We expect programming to be up and fully running in time for the

2001 school year," Ruby said.

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