Residents, activists fight to protect Squak Mountain forest from logging
Just north of East Renton Highlands, residents of May Valley have become accustomed to flooding. The valley is nestled along May Creek, which has risen considerably over the past several years.
Mary Celigoy boards horses inside a big red barn on her 65-acre property. In the shadow of Cougar Mountain, the land has been in her family since the 1940’s when her mother and father ran a dairy farm.
“My dad and his dad hand built the barn,” she said. “It’s just been part of us forever.”
Celigoy, 53, has watched over the years as May Creek slowly outgrew its banks. Acres of land that once provided horses plenty of pasture for grazing are now underwater for months out of the year.
“We’re going to see the day when the water doesn’t leave,” Celigoy said. “That’s my fear, and I think it’s a reality if we get any more water than we do.”
But just last week, Celigoy and her neighbors learned that the flooding could get much worse.
A few miles downriver, David Kappler came across a pink ribbon tied to a tree branch as he hiked up the southwest slope of Squak Mountain.
“Timber Harvest Boundary,” the ribbon read.
It is one of many ribbons that mark 216 acres of land purchased by Eatonville-based Erickson Logging, Inc.
The land borders King County’s Cougar-Squak Mountain recreational and wildlife corridor. With the expectation of a 103-acre parcel near top, the forested area was once owned by the Issaquah Camping Club.
Kappler, president of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, has joined together with concerned citizens and conversation groups to prevent the area from being logged.
“There’s definitely a significant part of the land that should be left alone,” said Kappler, who fears that a clear-cut of the area will worsen flooding in May Valley by allowing more water to drain into the creek.
“Most logging areas are not faced with a May Creek flooding issue like we have here and you’re not talking about a forest that is so close to how many millions of people?” he said. “So, there’s a lot of recreational potential here.”
King County, which has received a great deal of feedback from concerned citizens, has expressed an interest in using the forest for recreation and is in negotiations with the logging company to buy the land.
“There is quite a bit of public open space in this area and we are interested in acquiring this property for additional open space as well as access to existing trails in the area,” said Doug Williams, spokesperson for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
Williams said the county does not have enough resources to purchase the land and will apply for grant funding.
Kurt Erickson, who owns Erickson Logging, said if the county is unable to come up with money in a reasonable time frame, he would consider selling the land to a developer. However, he told KIRO Radio he would be willing to trade the land to the country in exchange for a forested area elsewhere.
Meanwhile, residents of May Valley continue to worry about the possibility of increased flooding.
Jeffrey Walker, who lives next door to Mary Celigoy, has considered postponing renovations to his home.
“My wife and I sort of wanted to redo our kitchen,” he said. “But we’re kind of wondering, ‘Is this just throwing money away? Is this ultimately going to be a loss for us?'”
Celigoy said if she loses more of her pasture to flooding, she may have to consider selling her family’s farm.