Friday, February 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pacific Northwest Magazine / Cover Story

Along the Way: From cow country to planned community, Highway 202 follows the path of progress

Mile Marker 0

To find Berry's Knot Farm, start at the overpass near the Splash & Dash car wash and the Dairy Queen in Woodinville. Cross Highway 522 and head into the country, past the split-rail fence and the forked driveway. If you get lost, just look for the red and white For Sale sign on that brown house at the top of the hill.

Inside are Stan and Gladys Berry. They've spent 54 years here, in what began as a 24-by-24-foot honeymoon cottage bought for $4,500.

As their family grew, so did the tiny house. Stan added a breakfast nook, bedrooms, a laundry room for Gladys. A deck for grilling hamburgers out back.

Two rambunctious boys were raised on this land dotted with fruit trees and a workshop. Stan dreamed up a family flooring business here. Gladys opened a beauty salon.

Their home sits near the western edge of Highway 202, a mostly two-lane road that starts in Woodinville, winds southeast through Redmond, past the Sammamish Plateau, across the Snoqualmie Valley and on to its end in North Bend.

The 30-mile road was born in 1925, when lawmakers gave farmers and travelers a boost by creating the Bothell Branch of State Road No. 2. The road hauled milk, lettuce and lumber across the agricultural valleys of the Eastside, and trucked sightseers and travelers between Seattle and the Cascades. Parts of 202, whose name and path have varied over the years, follow an ancient Indian route.

Today, the road carves through a piece of the Eastside mostly untouched. Cows and sheep graze in verdant fields, faded barns tilt beside clapboard farmhouses. Traffic signals are few. You can see the stars at night and buy fresh vegetables from Stevens Family Market.

Yet what appears, from the road, to be the postcard for a bucolic paradise is really a place whose landscape is subtly shifting every day, a place so altered already that its very identity is in question.

Stone chimneys of luxury estates peek from behind rolling hills. Advertisements for new subdivisions line the lush green valleys, Burma Shave style. Population density tripled in 20 years. Traffic backups at places like Sahalee Way and Highway 202 stretch for miles at rush hour.

You might think you know these places, rural outposts afflicted with the airborne disease of growth. You drive out here a few weekends a year to pick pumpkins or let the dogs romp in the river. Or maybe you live here, watching nervously for the sidewalk to roll down your narrow, country lane. Perhaps you're waiting impatiently for it.

In any case, you know the story: Old-timers complain about a loss of open space, the demise of the family farm and the new chain cafe down the street where newcomers have turned a cuppa Joe into tall-vanilla-soy-whatevers. Meanwhile, those same newbies bemoan the long hours they spend driving to Redmond or Seattle on roads like 202 while bragging about the four-bedroom "farmhouse" (with granite countertops!) they snagged for $400,000.

But it's not that simple. Folks moving to places like those along 202 yearn for many of the same things that attracted homesteaders 100 years ago, desires that are at once universal and uniquely Northwest: Room to roam. A spot for the tractor (or the RV). Nature close at hand.

Despite the mini-mansions, this is one of the last bastions of what's become affordable living on the Eastside, homes under $350,000 a half-hour from Microsoft. "It's the first thing people ask me," says Buck Hoffman, a real-estate agent with Windermere just off 202 in Redmond. "They say, 'I don't want to drive longer than 30 minutes, I want a 4,000-square-foot house, and I want it for 200 grand.' I tell them to change their priorities."

For a while now, the Berrys have watched the dance go on around them. The Funais. The Delvecchios. The Zanassis. They're all gone, but the Berrys remember them. Farm and ranch families, tough stock who worked the land and built the community.

Stan grew up a half mile east of here. Gladys' great-grandparents moved to Bothell in the 1880s.As a teenager, Stan sacked coal at the local mercantile. Then a speck of a town, Woodinville had rodeo grounds. Now, wineries have replaced farms, and a new tourist district helps draw more than a million visitors a year.

A lifetime later, the Berrys' labor of love is listed as vacant property. Selling for $390,000, the acre will almost certainly go to a developer who can put five new homes on the lot. The house they built would be bulldozed.

The Berrys say they don't mind. They feel it's time to move on, probably to a seniors' mobile-home community with quiet streets and tiny lots just a few blocks away.

"You can't halt growth," Stan says. "People have kids, and they have to go somewhere. You can't put them in a rabbit hutch."

Mile Marker 4

According to local legend, heaven sits at the corner of Highway 202 and Northeast 124th Street at the Redmond city limit. Step past the big cow out front and into Theno's Dairy, then breathe deep. Cotton candy. Vanilla syrup. Sugar factory?

Over by the freezer is Sandy Bloor, helping a dark-haired woman with a big decision.

"Didn't you have watermelon?" asks the woman, perplexed.

"Watermelon ice, but not ice cream," Bloor replies. "We do honeydew, cantaloupe."

The customer finally selects huckleberry, nervous. Bloor hands over the cone with a nod and a knowing smile.

The lady licks. "It's good," she says, turning the cone in her hand.

"We don't make it if it's not good." Bloor's mantra.

Decorated in cow kitsch, the factory produces 60 flavors of old-fashioned, "vat pasteurized" ice cream. Sandy and her husband, LeRoy, bought the place from their boss in 1991. It used to be a family-owned dairy farm. LeRoy was the licensed pasteurizer then, and Sandy worked in the company store. But in 1985, the cows were sold. All that's left is the fiberglass one greeting customers outside.

What drove the herd away?

"All this housing came in around us," Sandy Bloor explains. "People would drive by on the way home, roll down the window, and say, 'Oh my God, the smell.' They like the picture in their mind, but the reality doesn't suit them."

When the Theno family could no longer run the place, Sandy and LeRoy bought it, reinventing themselves in the same way the farm was reborn as an ice-cream company.

Over the past few decades, movie theaters, chain stores and condominiums have replaced most of the Sammamish River Valley's butchers, horses and Holsteins. The glossy Redmond Town Center has sucked some life out of the city's historic downtown.

The change isn't all bad, Bloor says. New, young families make trips for pumpkin and walnut-rum raisin ice cream and lap up Theno's glass-bottled, hormone-free milk. The factory falls just outside a King County farmland-preservation district, which wards off development with landowner-signed covenants. But the fertile swathe doesn't exactly fit the traditional picture of farming: It's made up of turf fields, nurseries and U-Pick organic vegetables.

Some praise the agricultural-production district, but others have criticized it, claiming that turf is not agriculture and that the land could be better used as soccer fields.

Mile Marker 23

At the historic Colonial Inn, head east and Highway 202 will take you all the way to the spectacular Snoqualmie Falls. But a left at 356th Drive Southeast will lead to inner peace.

Robin Rothenberg moved with her family from Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood to Fall City 11 years ago. "We just suddenly felt, I don't know, claustrophobic," says the mother of two teen-age girls. "I think we had a premonition of what was to come in the city — the boom, the traffic."

Just behind her butter-yellow house on the quiet, forested lot is the bright green Yoga Barn, where incense burns and Rothenberg teaches locals how to "bring life back into balance," kind of like she did by coming to the country. At first, she worried about things like where they'd go out to eat. But the fewer options they had, the less concerned they became.

It took years for some locals to accept the unconventional yoga studio, and the Rothenbergs ended up sending the girls to Bellevue for a private-school education. But for the most part, Fall City had what they needed.

Twenty-five people came to Robin Rothenberg's first yoga class in town. Now, she's got two studios and close to 300 students a week. Her clients are Microsofties, moms from the Sammamish Plateau and longtime Fall City folks. A lot of the demand is from a new type of resident whose social and cultural values are steering Fall City into a different definition of rural.

"They're a stressed-out bunch," says Rothenberg, whose husband works from home and helps teach couples yoga. "They commute. They're sitting at a computer all day. Their backs and necks and eyes hurt. Are (they) just chasing the dollar? If that's your primary motivator, there's a loss that comes with that."

So, Rothenberg says, people are starting to look more inward.

The setting encourages reflection. The eastern end of 202 is more rural-feeling than other parts of the Eastside's Almost Suburbs. You can hear the Snoqualmie River; cows are more common. Fall City has kept out the most telltale symbols of growth — chain coffeehouses, supermarkets, and cookie-cutter housing. Just this past summer, locals won a battle to keep out a 194-home development.

Folks in other communities haven't been so lucky.

Steve Shifton sits on the board of the citizens group Friends of the Law, which is suing Quadrant Homes, the Weyerhaeuser subsidiary building the 4,500-home Redmond Ridge and Trilogy developments east of Redmond, not far from Shifton's home off Highway 202.

"It just comes down to the idea of what you mean by rural," he says. "It's farm. It's forest. Are we willing to trade that away for the economic boost you get by urbanizing? No. You need a balance."

It's not that Shifton is against all development — he's a builder himself. It's just a question of control, he says.

The biggest protection against growth gone wild is the urban-growth boundary line, which King County drew in 1992 under the mandate of the state Growth Management Act. Most construction is supposed to occur on the urban side of the line, in places like Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish. But the protections are not absolute. County leaders made a controversial exception for Redmond Ridge, which falls on the rural side of the line. And even when development happens on the urban side, it inflicts crowding and noise on rural communities. Traffic volumes at the junction of Highway 202 and Ames Lake Road, a few miles west of the exclusive Aldarra Estates, are about four times what they were three decades ago. The stretch of 202 between Redmond and the Sammamish Plateau is so congested that the state is widening it to four lanes, an approach recommended for the entire road in long-range regional-planning documents.

As bigger roads and urban conveniences close in, Rothenberg knows the rural mentality is shifting. Since she arrived, places such as Target, Costco and multi-screen movie theaters have cropped up all over nearby Issaquah.

"When they built all that stuff, part of me was like, yuck," she says. "And the other part of me was like, thank God."

Mile Marker 26

In many ways, the Eastside's rural roads all lead right to Sonja Stevens' door. The 37-year-old owns a new home in Snoqualmie Ridge, another right-out-of-the-ground community perched on a hill off 202, overlooking the historic lumber town of Snoqualmie.

The 2,300-home development, still under construction, boasts a golf course, an elementary-school site and a climbing wall in the shadow of Mount Si.

On the urban side of the growth line, the Ridge is meant to support "smart growth." Homes are clustered, and parks and trails take the place of big yards. Built-in retail and business complexes mean less reason to leave.

In a strip mall at the heart of the Ridge is a pizza shop with wooden trim from a barn in Montana. Sonja and Robert Stevens own the place, one of the community's only restaurants. They moved here from Bellevue, looking for more space, a bigger house, a place with sidewalks for their 11-year-old son, Noah, to ride his scooter.

The restaurant is called Uncle Si's Pizza after Josiah Merritt (a.k.a. Uncle Si), who came to the Snoqualmie Valley in 1862 and built his cabin at the base of the most prominent mountain.

The name underscores the challenge facing communities like Snoqualmie, islands in a shifting rural sea.

Once, Highway 202 was the main route for cross-state travelers and Seattleites "motoring" to Snoqualmie Pass Summit for recreation. Service stations and road houses lined Snoqualmie's main drag, providing critical services and a steady income for the town.

When Highway 10, the precursor to Interstate 90, went in south of town it made the trip shorter and easier, and Snoqualmie found itself skirted, less important to travelers.

Still, the town had wood. In 1917, the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co. (later Weyerhaeuser) cut its first log, ushering in a decades-long timber dynasty. But by 1989, both Weyerhaeuser mills were shut. And when the massive Snoqualmie Tree Farm was sold and the wood-finishing plant closed last May, Snoqualmie's identity as a timber town slipped away.

Now, visitors on their way to the falls must browse the antique stores, the railroad museum, the tourist shops, to find clues to Snoqualmie's past.

On the valley floor along 202, in the heart of a fading downtown, Kenny's Northwest Experience beckons the curious with a sign: World's Largest Chainsaw Carving Outlet. In a town once known for cutting trees into logs, this is now where you come for a cedar statue of a grinning bear on a stump. You can hear country music and browse the supply of dream catchers while Hailey Stilwell, a friendly employee with red hair, red nails and red T-shirt, makes you a mocha.

The only growth happening in Snoqualmie is happening on the hill above downtown. Built by Weyerhaeuser's Quadrant on Weyerhaeuser land annexed by the city, the Ridge project has tripled the city's population since 1996.

In many ways, its residents are ideal for a town like Snoqualmie. They're young. They bring money; homes in the Ridge range from $220,000 to more than $1 million. They appreciate the outdoors, and they're sick of not knowing their neighbors' names.

But, like cowboys in an old Western, Old Snoqualmie and New Snoqualmie face off on either side of Highway 202, jockeying for control over the identity of a place that is still rural, but not the same rural it once was.

Sit around the saloons or cafes long enough, and you'll hear stories of yuppies complaining about the deer munching their roses. Old-timers, when they think no one's listening, curse those fancy cars and giant homes. When, they wonder, will the others realize what it means to live Out Here?

Sonja Stevens thinks she knows. The Stevenses get gas and go out to eat in Old Snoqualmie. Noah plays soccer there. And Sonja's customers are coming not just from the designer-colored houses in the Ridge, but from cabins in the woods, too.

From the hill near her pizza shop, you can catch a bird's-eye view of the canyon she wants to bridge. Beyond the matchbox rows of hillside homes and the old downtown's boomtown facades, the valley spreads out like an ancient quilt, all green slopes and gullies, grassland and trees.

Out Here, she says, "There's enough room for everyone."

Natalie Singer is a Seattle Times staff writer.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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