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Thursday, April 24, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Walkabout

Lower Coal Creek Trail

Special to The Seattle Times

Location: Bellevue.

Length: 2.8 miles round trip. Can return via sidewalk along Coal Creek Parkway.

Level of difficulty: Flat to moderately steep, dirt/gravel trail; muddy/slippery in parts after rains.

Setting: This less-visited trail in Coal Creek Park offers a verdant walk on the hillsides overlooking the lower reaches of Coal Creek. The stream valley was the site of a booming coal-mining industry during the 1800s that basically put Seattle on the map. If you continue past the western end of the trail via the Lake Washington trail, in about a mile you'll reach Newcastle Beach Park. Interpretive signs describe how the mined coal was transferred at that site to barges from the trains that brought the coal down the canyon.

Highlights: A visit last week found a profusion of pink wildflowers along the forested trail. Thickets of salmonberry bore magenta bells, aging pink trillium blossoms appeared occasionally, and the hillsides were liberally carpeted with the delicate nodding blooms of bleeding hearts. Watch your feet so you don't crush the area's many quarter-sized snails (with tan and white shells) that often cross the path. At the start of the trail, note the trunks of big-leaf maples that lean at crazy angles. A process known as soil creep makes the hillsides gradually move downhill, dragging along the trees. Also notice unstable mounds of loose soil and rocks, possibly a remnant of the area's early mining history. Near the western end of the trail, notched logs in the creek stabilize the streambed and create pools for salmon habitat.

Facilities: None.

Restrictions: No bikes or horses. Leash and scoop laws in effect. Cougars and bears are occasionally seen in the park. Don't touch the stinging nettles growing along the trail.

Directions: Take Interstate 405 to Coal Creek Parkway in the Factoria part of Bellevue, and head east 1.2 miles. The small trailhead parking lot is on the left; cross the road to access the lower trail.

For more information: 206-296-4232 or www.metrokc.gov/parks. The Issaquah Alps Trails Club (www.issaquahalps.org) publishes a book on trails in the Cougar Mountain/Coal Creek area.

Cathy McDonald is coauthor with Stephen Whitney of "Nature Walks In and Around Seattle," with photographs by James Hendrickson (The Mountaineers, second edition, 1997).

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