Mountains to Sound Greenway Designated as new National Heritage Area
The 1.5 million-acre area, stretching from Seattle to Puget Sound, is an unparalleled expanse of wilderness so close to a major metropolitan area.
October 20, 2019
By Amy Brockhaus, Deputy Director of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust
Note: Seattle Foundation holds the endowment for the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.
Our wild and beautiful backyard is now officially a national treasure. After nearly a decade of advocacy and bipartisan cooperation, the Mountains to Sound Greenway became a National Heritage Area in March 2019.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area joins 54 other such areas in 32 states, including iconic and historic landscapes such as New York’s Niagara Falls and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. National Heritage Areas are defined as places where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes.
This designation is an incredible recognition that the Greenway is unique and precious -- no surprise to those of us who live here -- and that its continued care is of national importance.
Over the past 28 years, the spectacular Mountains to Sound Greenway has secured its place as a treasured community asset for millions of people from Puget Sound to central Washington. The naturally rich forests and river ecosystems of the Cascade Mountains have provided sustenance for indigenous peoples since time immemorial. Evergreen trees blanket hillsides and valleys. The air and water remain clean and wildlife thrives in the forests. Even though millions of people live in the Puget Sound region, the Greenway is a place where people and nature coexist. An incredible 60 percent of the 1.5 million-acre Greenway is conserved in public ownership – an expanse of wilderness unparalleled so close to a major metro area in the U.S.
This didn’t happen by accident. In 1990, a small group of people decided land conservation and economic growth could both occur successfully and raise the overall quality of life in this community. This was a revolutionary idea after decades of conflict dominating environmental headlines. To raise public awareness and appreciation of the natural landscape along Interstate 90, citizens from the Issaquah Alps Trails Club organized an inaugural march, traveling by foot from Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle. The next year, in 1991, the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust formed from that groundswell of support, with help from the national conservation organization The Trust for Public Land and under the leadership of Jim Ellis.
Jim envisioned the creation of a Greenway across the Cascades – more than 100 miles of dramatic scenery, historic sites, working forests and farms, wildlife habitat, and hundreds of miles of trails, all conserved for future generations. Jim served as the Founding President of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and remains on the Board of Directors to this day. He built a large and diverse board to serve as the backbone of a bipartisan, inclusive coalition working toward shared conservation goals. Using public-private partnerships that make the most of resources and expertise, this coalition-based approach has achieved more than any single organization or agency could have done alone.
The Greenway Trust and its partners have worked together tirelessly to protect and improve the landscape, setting a national example for collaborative conservation. Its accomplishments include:
- Conserving more than 330,000 acres of parks, natural areas, farms and forests, with a total of more than 900,000 of the Greenway’s 1.5 million acres in conserved status
- Planting more than 900,000 native trees and shrubs
- Teaching local ecology to more than 60,000 students in classrooms, in the forests and along the streambanks of the Greenway
- Engaging more than 5,000 volunteers outdoors each year to restore parks, trails and natural lands
The Seattle metro area is among the fastest-growing population centers in the nation, as more people are drawn here by the booming economy and the amazing outdoor recreation. This means many good things, but also places great strain on natural lands and the systems that sustain them.
This national recognition offers opportunities to more effectively conserve natural resources and protect cultural heritage. It is a designation that promotes community involvement and collaborative stewardship to realize a shared vision for the future of a special place like the Mountains to Sound Greenway.
The Greenway Trust is also honored to be named the local coordinating entity of the National Heritage Area and proud to be stewards of this incredible place we call home.
Note: This guest blog expresses the opinions of its author, who was invited by the Foundation to share a community-based perspective. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Seattle Foundation and the forwarding or reposting of this content should not be viewed as an endorsement.