In 1936, Seattle city officials applied for water rights to build two reservoirs on the South Fork of the Tolt River to supplement the city’s main Cedar River supply. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that Water Superintendent Roy Morse convinced the city council that the thirst of a growing population would require additional resources. The Tolt River valley was cleared in preparation for damming soon thereafter, as illustrated by this somewhat apocalyptic-looking Seattle Water Department photograph.
Wandering through the Tolt River Watershed is strictly regulated, but with the gracious accompaniment of the Seattle Water Department’s Lee Ambler, I was able to pass through a dozen locked gates to discover that 50-year-old hemlocks blocked the original view. An unobstructed ledge 20 feet above the water provided an imperfect repeat of a rarely seen vista. The scallop-shaped mountain right of center is part of the McClain Peaks. —JS