Building a path for the future during a challenging time

At King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD), we consider it a win whenever we can partner with local agencies and organizations to accomplish a goal. In 2021, WTD’s partners at City of Bellevue Parks navigated the ongoing pandemic to create a big win for trail users and youth employment.

WTD’s Coal Creek Sewer Upgrade Project will close the Red Cedar Trailhead in the Coal Creek Natural Area for up to three years beginning in 2023. This critical clean water project will create needed wastewater capacity for a growing region and move much of the active pipe away from a cherished creek targeted for salmon recovery.

Sewer maintenance hole in the creek
Sewer maintenance hole in the creek

But the project team faced a problem: getting hikers around the construction area during the multi-year trailhead closure.

WTD’s City of Bellevue partners came up with a solution. The County could support a season of the City’s Well-KEPT youth employment program. The City would design, permit, and order materials for the trail detour, and build the technical elements. Bellevue youth would help build the trail and get education, job skills, and career development training in the field of park resource management.

This idea provided additional benefits. For the same investment as a temporary detour, the City could create a permanent trail segment, giving an additional option for hikers to explore and engage with nature.

The City’s proposal met many of King County’s goals to support healthy, thriving communities. WTD established an agreement with the City to complete the work in the 2020. Everyone was excited to hold a ribbon cutting celebration that fall.

And then, a wise team member suggested adding an extra year to complete the work. Just in case.

Signatures dried on the agreement. The City completed design and permitting. Materials arrived. The next step was to hire the youth crew. Then the pandemic hit.

Soon afterward, offices shuttered, schools closed, and few cars traveled streets and highways. Our region entered “stay at home” status, sheltering in place to protect people from an invisible threat. The youth crew was never hired.

An unprecedented year unfolded. More and more people confined at home escaped to the Coal Creek Natural Area for a breath of fresh air and a healing connection to nature.

Parks workers in masks and safety vests

During this time, the bridge and trail materials sat in storage. As the pandemic grew, everyone wondered whether the trail detour project could be completed before the County’s construction project began.

WTD’s partners at City of Bellevue monitored evolving public health guidelines. Vaccines raised hopes for a return to normal work, life, and play. With precautions, maybe the Well-KEPT program could be revived, too. They carefully prepared to move forward in 2021, establishing approved social distancing protocols for staff and crews.

While the pandemic rolled on, Parks employees made the trail detour project happen safely and successfully in summer 2021. Youth crews cleared a path through the forested Natural Area to help visitors pass the future construction site. Bellevue Parks crews completed bridge construction.

In addition to the trail detour for hikers, young crews also created a healthier path forward for trees along the way. These teens learned first-hand about invasive species impacts as they liberated trees from ivy, a common and damaging enemy. They removed gouging ivy roots from the bark and leafy vines that blocked air circulation around the tree stem. They cleared space for sunlight to reach native plants, helping them to grow and thrive.

The City of Bellevue shepherded the project to a close in fall 2021. Visitors far into the future will hike this route into the Coal Creek Natural Area, enjoying vibrant, lush nature on a path built by determined partners navigating a challenging and historic time.

WTD wants to thank our great partners at the City of Bellevue and the Well-KEPT program graduates. Our project team hopes that every time they visit the Natural Area, these young people remember what they accomplished during a time of challenge and hope.

Learn more:

Well-KEPT Program

Coal Creek Sewer Upgrade Project

Coal Creek Natural Area

  • People walk on a trail
  • Two parks workers with safety vests and masks on
  • A sloped trail
  • A trail bridge
  • A trail bridge