You are probably asking Why? would you want to find an old coal mine. They are dirty and certainly not the environmental star of energy these days!
It is really more about how fast our world changes. How a century plus ago the Pacific Northwest had many communities around Seattle that were built on coal. Shock!! What did you say? That is right there are communities and parks that are actually sitting on old coal mines.
It really started when I went to Cougar Mountain Regional Park. I had a time warp moment when I saw all the informational boards talking about how a large community plus an industrial complex once was thriving on the same site that is now a wooded natural area. If you want to know more about Newcastle and Coal Creek read through this post – Coal Creek MIne – 100 years Later
That brought me to finding that the main Renton Coal Mine was basically under I-405 close to the Renton City Hall. Check that out at this link – There is a Mine under my Freeway!
There you go – I have the wander lust now. How much can man change the landscape and then change it again and again. All in this very young part of the world were we think we are still newcomers.
Quite a while back a friend of mine told me that an old coal mine used to be up on Petrovitsky (a road on the East side of Renton headed to Maple Valley). The King County Petrovitsky Park was where it was. This bit of info for months brought me dreams and visions of an area inside a park with signs and maybe even warning signs of quick death if you enter a black hole.
Looking back on my investigating the park I have to laugh at that idealistic image. It was certainly not quite so simple with several false starts and wrong assumptions.
Two Fridays ago, July 26, 2019, I went to two Estate Sales in the Renton Highlands. My plan was after that to drive over to the park which is East of Fairwood and find this old remnant of history in it’s tidy park setting.
Right next to the park is a chunk of the old Petrovitsky Road. I did this little piece and saw the Lake Youngs Trail Head and a big King County lot that I thought was for maintenance. Lake Youngs is owned by the City of Seattle and is the source of water for the surrounding areas. It is a fenced off area that has a trail all around it. Not my idea of hiking since it is next to a chain link fence with barb wire. You can see nature but not be in it. YUCK!
I went around the corner back to Petrovitsky Park and found it to be a nice clean area. I parked my car in the spacious but fairly empty parking lot. All paved and with tidy landscaping. They even had running water bathrooms.
Then I saw the athletic fields and how developed it was. Someone had said the mine was on the southern edge of the park so I tramped over towards that side including a covered picnic area. Next to it I saw a covered area with a box and the word coal on it. That was it!! A small sign showing that the mine had once been there.
Wrong!! It was a place to put your BBQ coals. False lead for sure!! Off I went to a picnic table on the woods edge. I obviously needed a trail map of the area. About 10 minutes later I realized there was no trail map because there were no trails. This was a sports orientated park. If a coal mine existed here I would have to bushwhack in the forested area adjacent to it.
That brought me to walking down a non-authorized trail that went to a series of storm water ponds, a road and several housing developments. I got my daily steps, sweat a bit in the heat and in general found NO MINE!
This is not how you find an old coal mine. Just showing up does not cut this cake or find any history. I went home unsatisfied in my quest. However, there are tools I have used before on the internet. I had found a site hosted by the Department of Natural Resources that had old Mine maps you can access. Here is a snip of the New Lake Youngs Mine Map.
From this I figured the mine was not in the actual groomed park but next to the trail-head parking lot. Looking at the road in the map I figured it was just slightly southeast of that. So, back I went to the park. I also dressed a bit more appropriate for digging in the brush.
Before I left I printed out an article I found about the minor mines in the area. I not only went back for more of New Lake Youngs Mine but also the Starkovitch mine near to Cascade Shopping Center and the Wilson Mine near Fred Meyer and Summerhill apartments. I did some investigation around these two mines and will write another post about what I found.
Again I parked in the nice clean parking lot and then crossed the road to get onto the Old road. First thing I got up close and personal with was the King County Maintenance Lot. The fence on this side had slating to conceal what was in there. Not uncommon for maintenance yards. I was able to see in still and took a few pictures. It was puzzling because it was more of a storage yard. Not just any storage yard but one full of wreaked cars and motorcycles plus a boat and other odd vehicles. This must have had buildings at one time since the frontage side had concrete foundations plus a small portable office trailer. Guess it is not a maintenance yard.
I then walked up the trail to see what I could see of the area in the woods I thought the mine was in. Not a lot to see except I have to note a lot of the way it had chain link fence with barb wire on both sides of the trail. Early on part of it had this old fence post with metal and wire fencing. I assumed this meant this area was fenced for the mine to keep folks from hurting themselves. Old must mean history to be found.
That was on the left side of the trail and before we got to the City of Seattle fencing. I noticed on the right we were at the top of a hill. I briefly pondered this as a possible site for a mine. It is easier to dig into the side of a hill than just down in the ground.
I got to the actual perimeter trail of the watershed and here is the signage saying – STAY OUT!! Even little rebel me who often pushes the boundaries decided not worth climbing over that fence and going to jail.
The trail took me to the back side of the storage lot. Much easier to see what was there. Just wreaked cars and other odd vehicles including a shuttle van parked near the gate. Then I saw a structure to the left in the area I had figured the mine was in. It was fenced off to the side of the lot. More I looked at it, the more I think it was a kennel or place for some livestock. It was now deserted. Not mine kind of stuff after all. Another false lead.
Walking along I came to an area where there was a large water tank and a few old buildings. Maybe this was it? One section of that area had a big pile of dirt and from the trail a roof that looked like a deserted homestead.
That was it for the trail. I circled back to the trail-head thinking more and more like the storage yard had taken over the mine. Not only did the county get storage but it kept folks from falling into a mine shaft.
Next I walked over to that small road that leads to the front entrance of the water-tower. That had some more interesting things that seemed to cement my thinking of the mine being in this area. Three things along the way stood out.
First it was the old fence posts made of cement with a bracket for barb wire. No wire left on them just a row of them from the beginning of the road up to the gate to the tower. My brain said to me this had to be mine related due to their age. Was this the east perimeter of the mine property and there to keep coal thieves out.
Next are two wooden towers that I totally missed on my first walk up the road. When I turned around I was amazed by these old electrical power units. They are constructed of tall poles connected with a platform at about 20 feet up and then at the top had area of wiring and transformers. They were so old the wood platforms were crumbling. Was this power to the mine? or something else? What a mystery!!
Last, I finally found a way through the brush by walking next to the tower’s fence. My target was to see what the old building next to the dirt pile was. Once I finally got over to that section between the storage lot and the tower, I discovered it was just a big pile of dirt & gravel for road maintenance. The roof I had seen was one of two buildings associated with the Soos Creek Sewer and Water District water tower.
Then I walked back to my car and the nice parking lot. While there I saw a Park guy. He did not know about the coal mine and was like a lot of folks had no clue one even existed in the area. However, he did know the lot was used by the King County Sheriff to store cars that are part of investigations. Those would be either fatal traffic accidents or drug dealers cars.
Later that night when I was writing my friend who grew up in Fairwood about what I found, I had a moment of connecting dots. That shuttle van was from a recent accident down at the airport where a car crossed the median and rolled a van. A poor soul died in that wreak. That was that van stored for the investigation.
At this point I was pretty sure the mine was the storage lot and went home satisfied with my assumption. After dinner I pulled up the DNR map again and realized I might not be quite right. To confirm things I took the map’s section numbers and compared them to a map by WSDOT of Townships, Ranges & Sections.
Dang !! I was wrong. The mine was in that hill I noticed on the west side of the trail-head versus the east side. See how on this map below it has the elevation shown confirming my gut feeling.
This is the section map which I compared to the first map earlier in this post. On that old DNR map it has a line showing the west boundary of section 36 & where that aligns with the road. I was able to zero in on the right location with that big clue.
On this recent Friday I swung by again. Parked in the trail-head lot and wandered back up the trail. When I got to the fork in the trail I went west down the hill. About half way down was a trail into the area of question. Of course I followed it getting a bit wet and poked by blackberries.
Then it came out on a hill that overlooked a small clearing. That hill was built of coal! I had found it at last. The only other clue was a pipe sticking out of the pile. Was this the entrance plugged with tailings or was it just the tailings pile.
I won’t ever really know since the area of the buildings seen on the old map was deep in blackberry brambles. It would take major tools to get though that brier. It would be a scratch fest indeed.
That is how you find an old Coal Mine!! Never give up and keep digging till you match the maps up to today geography. Not very sexy in the end, just a big blackberry patch and an old pile of coal. However, I did have great satisfaction in solving this puzzle and finding where history intersects today.
I leave you with the thought about how 100 years can change things so much. We worry we are in the middle of change now but this all started decades ago. From the Industrial Revolution to the Technology Revolution – life is constantly changing for us.