Walking Washington's Riverfronts
Three cities developed on the banks of the three rivers. Pasco and Kennewick grew along railroad routes and from farming irrigated by the Columbia Irrigation Canal. Richland was a sleepy ranching and farming town, the commercial center of rich land watered by the rivers. Then the federal government chose Hanford as a site to produce plutonium during World War II. Transformed almost overnight, Richland became a nuclear city.
The Sacagawea Heritage Trail, named after the one woman in the Corps of Discovery, connects the three cities with a 23- mile paved loop. The trail follows both sides of the Columbia from its confluence with the Snake on the south to its confluence with the Yakima on the north end. You may walk or bike the trail in segments, one city at a time. Sacajawea State Park, on the Pasco side at the confluence of the Snake and the Columbia, is a good starting point on the southern end of the trail. The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center is a good access spot on the Kennewick/Richland side at 1943 Columbia Park Trail.
Other trails and spurs intersect and extend the trail, including the Richland Riverfront Trail, which focuses on nuclear history. It may be picked up at Howard Amon Park, 500 Amon Park Drive.
The Yakima River flows into the Columbia after a long journey from the Cascade Mountains through the Yakima Valley. The federal Reclamation Act of 1902 authorized thousands of miles of irrigation canals, turning the valley into the “fruit bowl of the nation.”
The city of Yakima, at the confluence of the Yakima and Naches rivers, is the fruit bowl’s market hub. From Fruit Row on the railroad lines downtown, fruit and vegetables were stored, dried, canned or packed, and shipped to the nation and the world.
The Yakima Greenway parallels the two rivers for more than twenty miles with ten access points. The trailhead on the west end is at Myron Lake. The Century Landing is on the south end.
Midway through the trail is the Naches River railroad bridge. Hobos gathered beneath it in the days when it was possible to hop a passing freight train to the next job. Twelve-year-old William O. Douglas, the Supreme Court justice-to-be, camped and talked with the hobos when he headed out of Yakima on his periodic rambles into the mountains.
Rotary Lake, near the junction of rivers, is the former millpond for the Cascade Lumber Company. A thousand logs from upriver logging would float down the Yakima River and arrive each day during the spring log drives. Since the mill closed in 2006, private efforts have reclaimed the riverfront for walking, biking and fishing.
On his ambitious exploration of the length of the Columbia River for the Northwest Fur Company, David Thompson canoed past the mouth of the Wenatchee River on July 7, 1811. Eighty years later a city grew where the two rivers converge.
Wenatchee had both water transportation and a railway line, the Great Northern, going through town, but the river was hard to navigate. Thompson had to portage his canoes around rapids. The land on narrow benches above the river was dry with poor soil. Not until large-scale irrigation diverted water from the Wenatchee River starting in 1904 did the land produce fruit and launch Wenatchee as the self-proclaimed Apple Capital of the World.