Salmon Creek Ravine

12550 Shorewood Drive SW

The open space park is undeveloped. It features 88 acres of river bank vegetation set along the Salmon Creek drainage, popular for hikers with its mostly primitive trail system which winds and branches throughout the wooded hillsides. The main trail is accessible from Shorewood Drive SW, and immediately to the left of the gated entrance to the waste treatment plant.

The heavily wooded ravine has a remnant of the verdant fir and cedar forest that once cloaked the area, includes a mile-long, year-round stream, and another mile of feeder tributaries, some of which are spring-fed. It also contains vestiges of the logging industry that flourished here. Springboard notches still scar cedar stumps scattered among the nettles and sword ferns, and the faint, mossy traces of skid roads are still visible along the hillsides.

Animals common to the ravine include bald eagles, raccoon, red fox, muskrat bats, osprey, otters, and grey squirrels.

Learn more about the Salmon Creek Watershed.

Park History

In 1864, George Oulette purchased most of the beachfront property along Burien’s northern coastline, making him the area’s first landowner. In 1870, John G. Parker purchased a foothold of 9.7 acres along the Puget Sound shoreline at the mouth of Salmon Creek. In 1871, C.P. Stone acquired 37 acres of shoreline property adjoining George Oulette’s northern boundary.

In 1875, George and Elizabeth Oulette bought 100 acres from William Brown in what is today the Miller Creek area of Normandy Park. Besides farming, Oulette was involved in timber harvesting in the area.

Others were also drawn to Salmon Creek for its timber. Samuel B. Carr and Thomas Hood began the first logging operation in northwest Burien around 1887. They worked their way up Seola Beach Drive onto the White Center plateau. In 1891 they moved operations to Salmon Creek, but gave up after a year due to its steep, wet hillsides. They bought land up on the plateau, near Oak Park, which they logged and subdivided.

Logging was an important economic activity in Burien, especially between 1890 and 1920. Logs were hauled by wagon to the nearest sawmill or split into cordwood and sold in Seattle.

Skid roads were used by ox-team loggers. Small logs were embedded crossways on the trail—like railroad ties, only farther apart. These skids were greased by men slopping grease from buckets, providing the slickest and quickest route for logs to be dragged down the skid road to the Sound. Traces of these roads remain in Salmon Creek Ravine. In fact, they make up some of the main trails. Eventually “donkey engines” replaced oxen. A few skid roads remained in use, mainly by small-scale horse loggers dragging out trees, or a small mill working a leftover patch of timber.

Early Homesteaders: The O'Days, Busses, and Kunhausens

Homesteaders near Salmon Creek were the O’Days, Busses, and Kunhausens. The O’Days’ 10-acre parcel lay between 18th and 21st St SW, and 112th St and 114th St at the northern edge of the ravine at the time. Michael O'Day tended 10 acres of potatoes, a major source of income for the family.

The O’Days’ nearest neighbors were the Busses, who built a cabin in 1906 on 10 acres near SW 116th St and SW 21st St. Paul and Mary Busse and their daughter Minnie Katherine chose this spot because it lay on higher ground than their previous home on the Duwamish River, which had flooded the previous November. South of the Busses lived with the Kunhausen family. Despite having six children and a modest two-room house, the Kunhausens took the Busses in until they finished their own cabin.

Paul Busse worked as a “powder man” for Jacob Ambaum, doing much of the blasting work on the roads between White Center and Burien, especially Ambaum Blvd. and the Highland Park/Lake Burien Rail Line.

Salmon Creek was frequently fished by the locals. Essel and Otis Haselton—whose 30-acre farm lay between 128th and 131st SW, from Ambaum to 8th Ave. SW—were one such couple. “Otis thought I was a pretty fair fisherman,” recalled Essel. “He always sent me on ahead and I usually caught most of the fish. Salmon Creek was much bigger then and full of nice trout.”

Developments in the Community: Parente Grocery and the Toonerville Trolley

In 1919, Frank Parente's father started Salmon Creek Grocery, near SW 116th St and Ambaum Blvd. The Toonerville Trolley stopped nearby. At 120th the tracks curved around Salmon Creek before continuing on to Seahurst and Lake Burien.

On weekends, people rode the streetcar out from the city and got off at Parente's store, where they bought refreshments and followed Salmon Creek down to the Sound. “As kids we used to walk down there," recalls Parente. “That would have been in the 1930s. There was an old skid road where they did logging. They would log the logs and skid them down to the Sound, and then they'd barge them away. . . . “

Hurt by the Depression and the closing of the streetcar line, Parente closed Salmon Creek Grocery in 1930. The nearby Lake Burien car line had run nine miles, from Riverside to Seahurst. It began in 1912 and made its last run in 1931. It was the only line of its kind in Seattle: single-tracked, over private right-of-way. Despite its operational problems, the line was vital to the growth of Burien.

The Burke Sawmill: A Disturbance of the Salmon Migration

In the 1940s, Joe Burke operated a small sawmill in Salmon Creek Ravine, just up from Standring Lane. Burke logged the remaining virgin timber in the Ravine and on Shorewood hill. He also installed a water wheel and power plant to supply electricity. The mill was there for only three or four years; then it was abandoned and burned down. Burke, who owned a millworking company in Ballard, also supplied Shorewood residents with water, piped from Salmon Creek in old wooden pipes wrapped with wire. These sometimes leaked, which customers were not too happy about. Eventually Burke and his customers buried the hatchet in a public ceremony.

Salmon Creek, originally a 4-mile stream draining the White Center plateau, once supported sea-run cutthroat trout; coho, chum, and Chinook salmon; and steelhead. In the 1940s, however, Burke, whose land on Standring Lane surrounded Salmon Creek, placed rock at the mouth of the stream, blocking salmon migration. Burke sought to eliminate bad smells in the fall when spawned-out salmon died along the stream bank. 

As of the mid 1990s, Mario Segale owned the property. King County later installed a culvert beneath Shorewood Dr, which crosses Salmon Creek Ravine just upstream from Segale’s property. This culvert, due to its steep grade, high water velocity and shallow depth, is also a barricade to fish migration. Because of these two migratory blockages within the first 800 feet of the mouth of the stream, no anadromous salmonid production occurs in Salmon Creek, even though 2,860 feet of suitable habitat lie just upstream from Shorewood Dr. As many as 250 adult fish per year are being lost as a result.

Salmon Preservation Efforts

In 1993, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife proposed adding more woody debris to Salmon Creek to improve pool habitat for fish, if the County removed the blockage beneath Shorewood Dr. Salmon Creek is currently believed to support small numbers of cutthroat trout and sculpin, as well as planted juvenile coho salmon.

Groups such as the Shorewood Community Club and Trout Unlimited have worked to restore Salmon Creek Ravine, remove blockages, and re-establish salmon runs. Property owners along the mouth of Salmon Creek, however, are still concerned about odor from spawning salmon carcasses and question public investment in restoring the runs.

Erosion and Drainage Issues

The Salmon Creek drainage basin, containing Salmon Creek and several tributaries, is just under two square miles in size. Much of the current basin once flowed northward toward Longfellow Creek, with the old divide lying between Mallard Lake (Kingston Pond) and Lake Garrett (Hicks Lake). Salmon Creek today meanders for three-fifths of a mile between Ambaum Boulevard, where it spills out of a 48-inch pipe, and Shorewood Dr. Despite encroaching urban development, Salmon Creek has avoided the severe erosion problems plaguing most urban streams. This is due to an 18-inch, high-flow bypass pipe (an old government sewer line), used since the late 1970s to channel stormwater directly into Puget Sound.

Prior to 1980, high water flows eroded banks and carried large amounts of sediment down Salmon Creek into Puget Sound during large storms. Erosion and blockages in the channel and culverts caused flooding to private property in both the upper and lower stream basin. In 1980, the White Center Drainage Improvement Project resulted in more consistent and less destructive stream flows in Salmon Creek.

Developing an Urban Trail System

In the early 1970s, King County proposed a series of interconnected pedestrian and bike routes called the Forward Thrust Urban Trail System. This trail would have followed Salmon Creek up to White Center, along Hicks Lake and east to the Duwamish Ridge and Green River trails. Hikers traveling west through Salmon Creek also could have linked up with a trail running along the shore. This ambitious plan, at least the Burien portion, never fully materialized. Lack of coordination among entities, disagreement about trail use, litigation from property owners, funding, and other issues proved to be roadblocks to the original plan.

Bob Wise and the Salmon Creek Greenbelt

In 1988, Bob Wise and his committee led a three-year battle to prevent development of Salmon Creek. Construction equipment was already operating in the area, cutting trees and preparing the land for housing development. But even the would-be developers recognized the dangers inherent in trying to subdue this fragile environment, laced, as it is, with steep hillsides, unstable soils, and slippery slopes.

In 1990, the Salmon Creek Greenbelt was established, thanks to the efforts of Wise and his committee. King County took charge of 77 acres, the first piece of property to be preserved as part of the Washington State Open Spaces Initiative. In 1991, the Salmon Creek clean-up and improvement program began; over 1,000 seedlings were planted by volunteers. The road winding from the sewer plant up to Ambaum was filled with crushed rock, improving its marshy conditions.

The Nisqually Earthquake

The Nisqually earthquake on February 28th, 2001 caused a massive landslide in Salmon Creek Ravine. A new creek, dubbed Earthquake Creek, was tapped from the aquifer and tripled the volume of Salmon Creek.

Updated April 2, 2020