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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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