Finn Hill Geography

Finn Hill Geography

A long long time ago, Finn Hill was not as it is.

Photographs by Renee LeBlanc


2011-9-11 deer 3 of 3
Photographs by Renee LeBlanc

50 million years ago, we’d all have been swimming in the middle of a huge sea west of the Idaho coastline. 40 million years ago, we’d have risen above water as Cascades and Coast ranges. 17 million years ago, we’d have been embroiled in a lot of lava and swampy land. It would be balmy, and we’d be surrounded by balmy-loving creatures and balmy-loving trees.

But after a long time we would have felt the cold come in.  Our familiar creatures would have migrated south and the trees died.  The Great Ice would have slowly muscled its way toward us like a giant slug, plowing out the cavities of Puget Sound and its parallel lakes, and then sitting on us with a weight made of mile-high solid ice.

Then, after a long while, the Great Ice halted.  Life grew warmer.  The slug retreated and turned into a claw, scraping out the slopes of Lake Washington and depositing steep hills and valleys at the north end.

By 11,000 years ago, Finn Hill would have become as it is: a high spot with a soft curve on the northeast shore of a long glacial lake, its bottom clay, its hills sand, and mantling its top, hardscrabble rock.  The Hill would actually have been a mountain island in the lake until what we call the Juanita Valley dried up.

Over the next long stretch, rain, streams, and time invited the trees back along with their birds and animals and the salmon clan.  The cedars came up from the south and the fir and hemlock came in from east and west.  They grew big in our coastal region.  The whole land was massively forested and the winters were cold and wet. Under the trees the berry and the mushroom thrived.

Up until the last hundred-plus years, we were an extraordinary temperate rain forest people by Coast Salish natives with villages near the big river outlets and foraging camps at the mouths of Juanita and Denny creeks.

More quickly than the Great Ice, the Undisturbed Wilderness halted when the Denny family and their friends decided to settle Seattle in the 1850’s.  We out here in the Pacific Northwest were the end of the American frontier, so our Seattle forefathers were a zealous lot of nature-tamers.  First, they took out the trees, leaving acres and acres of smoldering stumps; then they took down the mountains near Eliot Bay, leaving carved hills and a landfill waterfront; and then they shipped their equipment across Lake Washington and started in on us.

 

Parks and Woodlands in Finn Hill

In the year 1900, Orian Orvil Denny, the first white boy born in Seattle, may not have shared the family passion.  He bought 40 acres of waterfront and creek at the base of Finn Hill as a country estate and named it Kla-Ha-Ne meaning “away from.”  He was a marine engineer, “with a love of the water.”  To get away from it all in Seattle, Denny and his wife had to steam in their great yacht all the way down through the Duwamish and Black rivers and all the way up Lake Washington.  They probably docked on the edge of Holmes Point Drive.

How, you ask, did they get their boat up here?  In August 1916, the Denny’s could have stood on a lapping shoreline about where the road is.  Three months later, having watched the lake level recede steadily 1.2 inches a day for ninety days until it was nine feet lower, they would have looked across slimy rotting lake flats to the new shoreline as it is today.

But soon enough, little Denny Creek carved a new bed, and the cottonwoods sprang up, and the Denny’s grew old and willed their 40 acres to the City of Seattle to be a public park whose aim was to provide city children “almost forgotten experience in the green forest.”

2012-1-17 tree after snowfall-JW west

By now, in the 30’s, Seattle was booming and Kirkland was growing, and Bellevue and Woodinville were hot travel corridors, while little Finn Hill languished unnoticed, and relatively undisturbed.  Its settlers logged piecemeal and picked berries and walked to school.  Our area was on the way to nowhere important.  We were a jut, not a bay, lousy for docking.  We were really hilly and hard to get around in.  So the last frontier mentality was detoured by our inaccessibility, and Finn Hill got left alone.

In the 40’s Denny Park became a popular camp for urban escape with a horse named Denver.  There’s a big story behind that.

In the 60’s, neighbors lobbied the Department of Natural Resources and King County to acquire Big Finn Hill Park and the Juanita Triangle.

In the 70’s Bishop O’Dea’s private acquisition of St. Edwards land was passed through the Catholic Diocese to Washington State Parks for stewardship – in a wonderful story of last minute budgeting.

During all these decades, the City of Kirkland had acquired some 52 parks, and added Juanita Bay’s marshy waterfront to its estate in the public trust.

In the 90’s, The Denny Creek Neighborhood Alliance saved Denny Park and acquired the Juanita Woodlands. Joan MacDonald donated 10 acres in her daughter’s name.

In the 2000’s the Denny Creek changed to the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance and has begun to save ravines and greenbelts all over the Hill.

JW Planting a tree

Volunteers planting a tree in Juanita Woodlands

If you look down from the sky at the 626 acre swatch of St Eds (316), Big Finn (220, Denny (40 + 10), and Juanita Woodlands (40) parks, and all the ravines that pack 360 degrees of steep slopes, you see that Finn Hill area is the greenest part of the urban area in the biggest city in the greenest state of the USA.  We’ve been protected because we were out of the way, away from it all, Kla-Ha-Ne.  But now we’re in the way, in the middle of an urban splurge, and our green forest for children is Endangered.

We have a unique resource to protect and a role to model.  We are Kirkland’s biggest neighborhood, and we are an exemplary wildlife and human recreational habitat.

2012-7-4 trail scene-west JW

The Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance’s vision is to become a regional model of vibrant public planning around our astonishing urban resource.  Core to the vision is that neighbors are actively engaged with each other.  We walk the land, talk in passing, share tools, get behind projects, get muddy at work-parties, do outdoor stuff with our kids and their schools, and the FHNA board and policy people keep up at the front of Kirkland City planning that affects us.  Then we celebrate!

We invite you first of all to enjoy these connected parks and to join us in educating ourselves and our children how to treat our land and wildlife as our oldest ancestors would have liked us to.  The traditional Mohawks believe that “the children of the future generations will be formed from the same Earth that we walk on in our daily lives.  Therefore, we must walk softly and with great care so as not to harm the faces of the children to whom we will someday be ancestors.”

If you want to get involved with your neighbors in any branch of this noble effort, contact FHNA, which will send your message to the right person…. Who will get back to you promptly.

Ellen Haas is a founding member of the Denny Creek Neighborhood Alliance and ongoing board member of the Finn Hill Alliance. She’s co-author of Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, an Elder of Wilderness Awareness School, a Finn Hill schools parent, all-parks dog-walker, and an amateur geology buff.

Read Ellen’s story about the fish returning to Denny Creek.

Ellen Haas at Denny Creek valley with two king salmon that "we were dragging from hatchery to pickup truck to banks of the creek to create nutrients for the Coho salmon we were spawning."

Ellen Haas at Denny Creek valley with two king salmon that “we were dragging from hatchery to pickup truck to banks of the creek to create nutrients for the Coho salmon we were spawning.”

Photography by Anne Fleming

11 Responses to “Finn Hill Geography”

  1. Jon Pascal says:

    We live in a wonderful neighborhood. What a great historical story about Finn Hill! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Torris T. McCall says:

    Finn Hill is a truly unique part of Kirkland. I live on the eastside of the hill. We have a great neighborhood, of really good families, and neighbor’s. We watch out for one another, and help one another. We have a very large greenbelt, that supports many types of wildlife. Including deer, raccoons, Red Headed Wood Peckers, Owls,and so on. My son, and neighborhood boys used to play down by the creek. They would bring back, Crawfish, Salamanders, Frogs, and Garter Snakes. Smiling remembering those days. Some of us live on the Greenbelt side, and see wildlife all of the time. What is critical now, is the development plans for housing that would intrude on the Greenbelt. This may make the steep slop unstable, causing landslides, and encroach on the wildlife habitat. A land slide could cause serious damage to homes, and the creek below. This place has a rich history, and needs to be protected.
    Some neighbors living on the greenbelt, have already expressed concerns.
    Very nice, eloquent commentary Ellen Haas !!

  3. Charlotte Goldsmith says:

    Thanks for the background story of Finn Hill that is interesting, informative, and motiving. Your words and work further endears us to this special spot and encourages our stewardship.

  4. Jeff Hoerth says:

    Okay, you’ve convinced me – take out Juanita Drive and allow access only by steamboat so we can become Kla-Ha-Ne once again! Wow, you covered 50 million years in just a few minutes and did it beautifully. Nicely done. And knowing we were once a rain forest here helps my patience with the latest stretch of rainfall a bit.

  5. ellen haas says:

    Thanks for all your delightful comments! The land itself tells its story, and what a story it is! We’re “special!”

  6. Teresa Chilelli-WHite says:

    Absolutely Fabulous! Thank you Ellen for your hard worki n preserving our area for future genrations. If we work together, we humans can live learn to live in harmony with nature. THank you for forging the trail!

  7. Kristin Pascal says:

    This is just fascinating! I learned so much about our area. Aside from that, I also love one of the final paragraphs, which describes exactly why Finn Hill, and FHNA, is so great:

    “The Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance’s vision is to become a regional model of vibrant public planning around our astonishing urban resource. Core to the vision is that neighbors are actively engaged with each other. We walk the land, talk in passing, share tools, get behind projects, get muddy at work-parties, do outdoor stuff with our kids and their schools, and the FHNA board and policy people keep up at the front of Kirkland City planning that affects us. Then we celebrate!”

  8. Tom Fitzpatrick says:

    Thanks very much for this, Ellen. Even here in lowly South Kenmore we feel so lucky to live in our state/region/community!

  9. This was a fun and interesting read. Thanks for taking the time!