History of Bear Creek
By Gary Smith
Thousands of years ago, the first native people were drawn by salmon runs to the confluence of Bear Creek and the Sammamish Slough, where they established fishing sites. When white settlers arrived in the valley in the 1860s and encountered only seasonal camps of Indians, the newcomers soon took over the land and water, greatly changing the natural habitat. Salmon in particular were impacted as the Sammamish River and Bear Creek were channelized and as communities grew to cover large tracts of impermeable surface nearby, leaving only a small green space around the confluence.
Geography of lower Bear Creek
As this 1897 map shows, Bear Creek flowed into the Sammamish south of the current confluence, which is shown by the light-blue line (visibility?) in this historical map of the downtown Redmond area:
Native American culture: The first inhabitants of this area were probably Snoqualmie Indians (some claim that a band of the Duwamish tribe was here first). Undoubtedly, many Indians followed the salmon from Puget Sound toward the Cascades, establishing summertime fishing camps along the waterways. Despite arrowheads, mussel shell middens, and other evidence of seasonal food gathering in the Redmond area, however, there is no clear indication of any permanent Indian village near the confluence. According to one local historian who did research at the Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, “Snoqualmie tribal elders tell me that a small plankhouse stood at that site (Slough House Park) for many years, making it a possible tollway for the use of the portage crossing.” This Snoqualmie story, while unconfirmed, suggests that Indian activity was concentrated near the confluence.
White settlers’ culture: Read More>>The first white immigrants arrived in the Sammamish River valley around 1870. According to one account (Bagley, 1929), ”Early loggers set up temporary camps to log the forests, but permanent settlers soon followed. Luke McRedmond and Warren Perrigo arrived in the valley in 1871. They named their new settlement Salmonberg because of the abundance of dog salmon found in nearby streams.” They soon established farms and built transportation routes, including bridges over the major waterways. One of these bridges was near the McRedmond farm where the river had solid banks and a gravel bottom, making a natural crossing for Indians long before and providing optimal salmon spawning conditions.
Over the past century, all the trees in the area were cut and waterways were channelized to facilitate agriculture and reduce flooding, but the land was not heavily developed. So while the wetlands “fish factories” at the Confluence were stunted by channelized waterflow, the salmon were not yet suffering from modern water-quality problems, and other animals still flourished, from eagles to beavers. Then, in 1956 a dairy farmer sold his land south of Bear Creek, which was eventually incorporated into King County’s first park, Marymoor. The adjacent farmland north of Bear Creek was also sold and developed first into a golf course, then in the 1990s into a shopping mall. The mall is still privately-owned, but the city of Redmond is currently negotiating to acquire the greenway.
The fall/winter issue of the WaterTender newsletter described the current situation with this hopeful conclusion: “a well-designed relocation project will occur. The Bear Creek Restoration Project will create 4,000 feet of enhanced channel, restore stream habitat, add logs and spawning gravel, restore streamside wetlands and backwater areas, and restore native trees and shrubs that will shade the channel” (from Dick Schaetzel’s article, “Major Bear Creek Restoration Planned”). Soon, the confluence will look very different from this current photo.