Maple Valley, once a woodsy lakeside resort for city dwellers fleeing urban life, has grown into a small city that completely encircles Lake Wilderness and two other lakes southeast of Seattle.
And though the wilderness is gone, the region’s lakes and woodlands continue to attract people pursuing recreational activities within a forest, from hunting and fishing to hiking and canoeing.
In fact, residents still can find a taste of the kind of life that shaped Maple Valley’s early history.
Lake Wilderness, the natural landmark at the center of the city, was once the site of one of King County’s larger lumber mills. In the late 1870s, the first settlers began developing what would later become Maple Valley.
By 1885, trains were hauling coal to neighboring Black Diamond, a city whose industrial awakening revolved around the “black diamond” – coal – and contributed to the growth of Maple Valley.
In the early 1880s, settler George Ames suggested the city be named Vine Maple Valley because of the many vine maples trees around the area. Another settler, C.O. Russell, liked Maple Ridge much better.
The settlers voted, and Vine Maple Valley won.
By 1887, "Vine" had been dropped and, three years later, Russell platted the town.
As the importance of coal in the region declined, Maple Valley began to attract another kind of settler – the resorter. Seattleites, bored with urban living, began building summer cabins around the lake-strewn area and along the Cedar River. Lake Wilderness was a prime attraction. By the mid-1920s, a resort had sprung up, complete with a restaurant, ballroom and a roller skating rink.
The area continued to develop. Summer homes were often replaced with more permanent structures, many along the area’s scenic streams and the Cedar River despite penchant for common springtime floods that by the 1970s and ’80s regularly enveloped homes that encroached on the riverbanks.
Maple Valley didn’t incorporate until 1997, after nearly three decades of sprawl from the adjacent suburbs began to concern the area’s residents.
Thousands live there today, and much of the forest is giving way to roads and housing. But the lake still attracts swimmers in summer.
The resort may be gone, but there’s a lush golf course between Lake Wilderness and two of the smaller private lakes in the city – Pipe Lake and Lake Lucerne.
And the city’s parks, arboretums and miles of walking and biking trails are popular with residents and more than a few Seattleites, who are still able to find some escape from urban life in Maple Valley.