When Coal Was King: Lake Wilderness Park

Lake Wilderness Park

As summer skies bring warm weather, Lake Wilderness will become a popular destination for family fun. Lake Wilderness Park is a 117-acre gem located adjacent to the Cedar River trail where coal trains once rumbled. The lake’s first development, the Hanson sawmill on the south shore was facilitated by completion of the Columbia & Puget Sound Railroad in 1885.

That rail line was built to access coal mines in Black Diamond and Franklin. By the early 1920s, the advent of automobiles created new markets for outdoor recreation on scenic lakes throughout south King County. Lake Wilderness was one of the most popular and once supported three resorts: Gaffney’s, Dieckman’s, and McKinney’s. Eventually brothers, Thomas and Kane Gaffney bought out the competition and formed a public corporation, Gaffney’s Lake Wilderness.

In 1950, the award-winning Lake Wilderness Lodge was built at the north end of the lake and even boasted an airstrip, now site of the Arboretum. A trail along the lake’s west shoreline follows a series of signs, which illustrate development over the years to explain the 135-year history of this precious local resource. This photo number P.00.15.87 of the lodge in the 1950s comes courtesy of the Maple Valley Historical Society.