by Mark Borleske, CRF Board Member
Cascade Rail Foundation (CRF) is celebrating a landmark year. The volunteer group first met in September 1999, an informal gathering of people interested in preserving some of the last remnants of the Milwaukee Road railroad facilities in Washington State. The focus of the group was to do something about saving the abandoned and derelict wooden depot. It was vacant and neglected for most of the 19 years since the railroad pulled up its track and abandoned the line. Support was enlisted in many areas and a group initially known as Friends of the South Cle Elum Depot was created.
Successes in fund raising donated or reduced cost contractor work and a tremendous pool of volunteer labor combined to rehabilitate the depot. This joint effort between a volunteer group and Washington State Parks serves as a model of cooperation. The transformation of the depot from a vacant derelict into a wonderfully restored showpiece is a testament to the enthusiasm, persistence, and effort on all levels to succeed.
While depot was undergoing rehabilitation, out in the rail yard an interpretive trail was developed. The trail offers a self-guided walking tour with 18 interpretive signs in the rail yard and features the archaeological ruins and remaining railroad buildings. A distinctive Milwaukee Road bay window caboose was moved to the rail yard. Museum displays were installed inside the depot and the depot office with an authentic working telegraph office. There are many challenges ahead for CRF, including moving forward with a rehabilitation of the brick substation next to the depot as well as renovate the inside of the caboose.
2009 is an important centennial year in South Cle Elum. In 1909, construction of the wooden depot was completed. It was also the year the Milwaukee Road completed its Pacific Coast Extension. At the time the Milwaukee was one of just two railroads offering direct single-line service from Chicago to the Pacific Coast Ports (the Santa Fe was the other railroad). One hundred years ago, South Cle Elum was filled with activity as the railroad was being constructed, a town was being established and the railroad announced its plans for a yard, engine terminal and a crew change point here.
Looking ahead, 2009 will be a year of activity at the South Cle Elum Rail Yard Historic District.
On April 25, to honor Arbor Day, there will be a work party to do some tree planting, some landscaping and maintenance in the rail yard and on the interpretive trail. Individual volunteers as well as organizations and community groups are invited to participate.
On Friday June 12 and Saturday June 13, we will have a centennial observance of our depot as well as the opening of the railroad route from the Midwest to Puget Sound. The event, known as Depot Days, will turn back the clock to 1909, when the railroad was just open for business and the depot was completed. The event will feature a reenactment with presenters in period costume, a working telegraph office with an opportunity to send and receive telegrams and a post office inside the depot with a special commemorative postmark honoring the event. For entertainment there will be silent movies as well as music from the 1909-era. It promises to be a fun event and an opportunity to experience life 100 years ago.
On July 11, the rail yard will be the site of the second Brewfest. This is a fundraiser for Cascade Rail Foundation. It is an opportunity to enjoy the ambiance outside while sampling the finest crafted beers in the region. Washington State wines will also be available at the event. Rounding out the festive event with food and entertainment and games, this promises to be a fun-filled day for adults. For more information, visit the website: www.RailsToAlesBrewfest.com
As Cascade Rail Foundation enters its second decade, and the depot enters into its second century, we welcome you to visit, explore and participate in the events and projects at the historic depot and rail yard. We are proud to be continuing our mission to preserve Milwaukee Road history in a wonderful setting.