Monday, June 14, 2010

One Great Wilderness - in Federal Way

Story and photos by Karen Meador

Ever feel like communing with nature and/or history but don’t like getting your shoes dirty? An urban oasis consisting of a primeval bog, two lakes, tall trees, lush and varied vegetation, assorted wildlife and two historic cabins on 120 acres of natural habitat await you just one mile from I-5 … in Federal Way. Located on the south side of South 348th Street and 4th Avenue South, West Hylebos Wetlands Park is a delightful way to spend time bonding with nature – without mastering the art of backpacking.

With 1.5 miles of gravel trails and wheelchair-accessible boardwalks, the park is extremely user-friendly for all age groups and fitness levels. Toddlers, senior citizens and all ages in between can be seen enjoying this remarkable gem in the midst of suburban development. About 50 yards from the South 348th Street parking lot, the traffic noise vanishes and you find yourself in another world -- much like Ilene and Francis Marckx found the property when they purchased it in 1955. Ilene Marckx later donated 37 acres toward the park and spearheaded the effort to expand and preserve it for future generations. Mrs. Marckx liked to boast that “the West Hylebos contains every type of wetland there is” – from cedar swamp to open marsh.

With a mutual goal of preserving the natural and cultural history of Federal Way, the Friends of the Hylebos joined with the Historical Society of Federal Way to relocate two historic log cabins to the Park. Early Seattle pioneer David Denny’s original donation claim included much of what is now downtown Seattle as well as Seattle Center. In 1889 he built a cabin just west of that location for use as a real estate office with lumber logged from Queen Anne hill. The cabin remained there for many years and was used as a tavern -- among other things -- before being moved to Federal Way.

The John Barker Cabin – filled with period furnishings and artifacts -- was built on the Barker homestead in 1883 at approximately South 312th Street and 7th Avenue South. He and his wife were among the earliest settlers in the Federal Way area, which his son Claude later described as “one great wilderness.” The Barker Cabin is open for tours from 12:00 to 4:00 on the second Saturday of every month through October.

After your journey through the unique beauty and heritage of the West Hylebos Wetlands, take advantage of the best of both worlds and enjoy a meal at one of the wonderful restaurants in the Federal Way area -- all without changing your shoes.

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