By Alan Robertson
From 1912 until 1931, there was an electric streetcar line that connected Seattle to Burien through Highland Park (learn more about the history here). The line came South near West Marginal Way from Spokane St and then started climbing the hill as it passed Puget Way SW. It continued through the greenbelt, clipping the SE corner of the Pee-Wee fields at Riverview Playfield, passing East of the upper Riverview Playfields and then connecting with Highland Park Way SW at SW Holden ST.
When the trolley was discontinued, they ripped out the tracks and power lines. Then much of the area was mined for sand and gravel, further erasing evidence. On top of that, there were hill slides, falling trees and dense vegetation that have made following the path of the trolley impossible. That hasn’t stopped me from trying. Currently, there are two legs that I found allow you to cover some of the path, or close to it. They do not connect at this time, but there is a fair amount of trail construction going on, so perhaps they will at some point.
The first leg of the trail is from West Marginal Way, near where it started up the hill. Getting here is a bit of a challenge. If you drive, you will want to park at Herrings House (AKA T-107) Park and walk South along the railroad track. Initially there is a bicycle path, but the path turns away from West Marginal Way at Puget Way SW. You will need to walk along the tracks, keeping a sharp eye out for trains. The trains do not run at high speed down here, but they run frequently. Be careful. Looking across West Marginal, you will see a shipping container with a gated entry by it. Cross West Marginal very carefully. The speed limit is 40 and much higher speeds are common.
Next to the gated entry is an opening that allows for foot traffic. You will briefly be on private land, but the trail is on street right-of-way. The container is apparently processing runoff from the property above. The reason this section of land is not developed and not owned by the city is that it is contaminated with kiln dust from the cement operations across the street. During discussions on Soundway, I recall someone involved in greenbelt acquisition saying that they would not acquire this piece of property because they didn’t want to take on the contaminated property, but also because it could never be developed. Why use money to buy greenbelt space that would remain greenbelt anyway?
The trail can get overgrown in places, with blackberries and other bushes. It can also be very muddy, so you will want to dress accordingly. As you go up the hill, you will have to climb over fallen trees and watch out for nettles. This trail is not maintained and so determining where the trail is can be a challenge.
There is a somewhat inexplicable section of cyclone fencing on the uphill side of the path. It is topped with barbed wire, but is not enclosed, so that you could easily go around it on either end. There is a path that heads uphill, just before the fence. This path is tempting because there is a large tree across the desired trail at this point. Stay on the downhill side of the fence and climb over the tree.
Around what would be Brandon, the trail heads uphill and then does some switchbacks. Rather than heading up hill, it would be nice if it continued straight, but that isn’t currently an option, as far as I could tell. You will exit on Brandon, just South of the Chinese Gardens.
Here is the Google My Tracks mapping of the walk. I’m going to place the mapping of the second portion right afterward, so that you can easily compare the two.
This is a walk that will require you to retrace your steps to exit, as the trail dead-ends. It starts at the Riverview Playfield, on SW Webster St. This starts as an easy hike and gets harder and messier. Walk North, in back of the fence for the playfields. The trolley line would have been about a half-block further East, but this is as close as you can get. After the end of the ballfields, there is a road down to the Pee-Wee fields. The trolley line would have cut across the SE field. Continue to the other side of the fields and you will find a well maintained, crushed rock trail. Follow it to the end where you will connect with the old service road used for sand and gravel operations.
Head downhill on the road until you find a trail heading off to the left. There are multiple trail options to make this connection. Some are better than others, but it will lead you to another well maintained trail traversing the hill. There are a few trails in here, but only one that takes you across the hill. There isn’t any signage yet to tell you which way to go. If you can open the map above in Google Maps, on your phone, that would be your best bet. Make sure you have your GPS turned on.
This trail is still under improvement and you will soon reach the end of the crushed rock and obvious trail. You should come to a pond that may surprise you in size.
When you get to what would be around SW Findlay St, the trail climbs. It could be that I missed a branch that kept it straight. The trail is fairly undefined in here and eventually just ends. I suspect there had been an entrance near Brandon, but that it has overgrown with blackberries. Regardless, it is well above where the trolley would have been.
Ideally, the trails should be joined down below. There is about a block (Brandon to Findlay) between the trails where they make the turn uphill. It would be nice if they could be joined, formalized and become the Trolley Trail.