If you were a child at any point in your Maple Valley residency, then you have most likely been to Lake Wilderness. Perhaps you’ve had your wedding at the lodge or you’ve ventured to the park to celebrate the annual fireworks show on Independence Day. The first weekend of June the park fills up with rides, carnival games, fair food and a variety of booths. Barbecues, family reunions or simply a chance to let your little ones release some of their energy has most likely brought you to this sprawling 117 acre park. I personally have fond memories of celebrating field day during the last days of school at the park, walking with our teacher from Lake Wilderness Elementary along the old trails, passing the arboretum.
Lake Wilderness was originally the site of the Hanson Mill, one of the larger mills in Maple Valley. After the original dance hall burnt down, the mill would host the weekend dances and by 1950 Lake Wilderness would become a popular resort call Gaffney’s Grove.
The resort included 60 rental cabins, a store and two swimming beaches complete with gravel and sand, slides, trapezes, and diving towers.It also had boat rentals, a bowling alley, roller rink, restaurant, dance hall, nine-hole golf course, baseball fields, tennis courts and a private air-strip.
In the first half of the 20th Century, adventurous Seattleites would spend their free time exploring the wild wilderness of the Cascade foothills, staying at one of the many resorts that dotted the lakes and rivers. When Lawrence Jacobsen bought a piece of land from Alec Turnbull in the early 1900s, he knew that he had to keep up with the resort trend. With his farm including the old mill lake, it was a perfect place to accommodate fisherman and hunters. After exchanging hands a few times, two brothers by the name of Tom and Kane Gaffney would lease part of the land adding a few cabins that they rented. 
Kane, a musician from Sprague, WA, first became interested in setting up a resort, when he was a performer at one of the outdoor concerts held on the lake . It was a successful venture and the brothers would purchase the property in 1926. By 1927, Lake Wilderness Grove was born. But that small part of the property wasn’t enough. Two other resorts, Dieckmans and McKinney were along the lake. The brothers would buy out both of those resorts. The McKinney resort included a ballroom, a roller rink and a famous chicken dinner restaurant.  By 1949 the resort was incorporated. At its peak, Gaffney’s saw upwards of 9,000 guests in a day. 
The park was at its most popular years during WWII when gas was rationed. Park goers would take buses to the dance hall on Saturday nights. After the war, automobiles would allow locals to drive the short distance to attend the dances or take a day trip to go swimming. Out of towners would stay in the cabins dotting the park. When the North Bend-Tacoma Highway was built, the Gaffney brothers anticipated a growth in park visitors.
The brothers invested in a 20,000 square foot lodge Designed by architects Young & Richardson which would earn the National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1952.
The column itself is a piece of art, carved in the local Native culture, by Dudley Carter during the 1949 King County Fair. The lodge opened on June 24, 1950, which included the new airstrip. Over 8,000 people attended the opening. 
Gaffney’s was a popular resort,often appearing in newspapers and magazine. In the September 1952 issue of Flying magazine, Irving Petite promotes the easy accessibility of this resort, “This wilderness is within easy reach for weekend vacationers whose highway is the sky” . In the June 8th, 1952 edition of the Seattle Times, Seattle residence Joe and Janice Krenmayr compare the resort to their amazing experiences while traveling in the southern lake region of Chili, “Down in the beautiful Lakes Region of Southern Chile we visited a resort hotel which we proclaimed the finest we’d ever seen and at the time we lamented that should some of our Chilean friends make good on their promise to visit us, we had no treat near Seattle that could compare with Hotel Puyehue. I take it back! We’ve discovered many places already, and Gaffney’s should be a super treat. First of all, they can land on a private air strip right in front of the hotel! Inside, they hardly can fail to be as impressed as we were by the spiral stairway which follows a carved totem pole rising through the center of the lobby, the only totally suspended steel stairway known to have been built…”
By the 1960s the crowds would die down and the park was purchased by King County in 1964. By 1969 40 acres of the park would become the Lake Wilderness Arboretum. The park would eventually remove most of the cabins, slides and diving towers. The playground and beach area would be updated. In 2003, the city of Maple Valley would purchase the park.
- Krall, Lorene. The Story of Our Community Maple Valley, WA. Lorene Krall, 1953.
- Lorenz, Laura. Historical Sketch of the Greater Maple Valley Area. Card Sharks Printers, 1986
- Petite, I. (1952, September). Gaffney’s Lake Wilderness. Flying Magazine, 51(3), 33.
- Kcarchivist. (2017, January 31). Lake Wilderness Lodge: Mid-Century Modern, Pacific Northwest Style. Retrieved April 25, 2019, from
- Krenmayr, Joe and Janice. “Rediscovering the Pacific Northwest: Lake Wilderness.” The Seattle Times, 8 June 1952.