Washington Tribe Buying Iconic Snoqualmie Falls for $125 Million

Washington's Snoqualmie tribe has purchased Snoqualmie Falls, the adjacent Salish Lodge and 45 acres of land for $125 million.

The 268-foot waterfall on the Snoqualmie River is one of the state's most popular attractions, drawing more than 1.5 million visitors a year, and was featured in the TV series Twin Peaks.

"This purchase represents the Snoqualmie Tribe's ongoing work to reclaim its traditional lands and will allow the Snoqualmie people to appropriately care for our sacred Falls and share it with all who wish to experience the powerful connection," said tribal chairman Robert de los Angeles in a release.

The tribe will be halting proposed developments on the site and will be working to install signage and educational materials that bring the cultural context of the Falls to visitors and residents.

Under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, the tribe relinquished all land from what is now the city of Everett to Snoqualmie Falls. However, the federal government did not recognize the Snoqualmie people as an independent tribe until it won a lawsuit in 1999.

That lawsuit opened the door for the Snoqualmie tribe to purchase the falls and adjoining land that has long been held as a sacred site by their people. In Snoqualmie mythology, Moon the Transformer created the falls from a fish trap to try and get the salmon to spawn further upstream.

Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge
Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge gmc3101 / Getty Images

European settlers began arriving in the Snoqualmie Valley in the 1850s. In 1889, the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern railroad was run into the valley to enable loggers there to ship their product worldwide.

That same year, civil engineer Charles Baker established the town of Snoqualmie and soon built an underground power plant to harness the power of the river. That plant, the world's first of its nature, is still operational over a century later under the administration of Puget Sound Energy.

A second underground powerhouse was built in 1910 and expanded in 1957. The facility currently produces enough power on average to supply more than 20,000 households.

PSE holds a Federal Energy Regulatory Committee permit to operate the dam on the Snoqualmie River. The Snoqualmie tribe now has significant influence in the permitting process and could conceivably remove the dam if they desired in the future.

"For generations, our tribe has been vocal and public in our intent to protect this sacred site and return the falls to its natural flow. As landowners we have more leverage that we'll be using as a sovereign nation," De los Angeles told Newsweek

In addition, a planned development by the City of Snoqualmie can now be halted. The city had contracted to construct a hotel, conference center, 175 residences and a 492-space parking lot on the land. The tribe had initially filed a lawsuit in 2016 to block construction, claiming that the city failed to consider environmental and cultural impacts when they approved the plans.

"The status of that [planned development] is that it no longer exists," tribal vice-chairman Michael Ross confirmed to Newsweek. "We bought this land to prevent the expansion of the Salish Lodge onto our burial grounds, our religious areas and our gathering places that we've held dear to our hearts for the last thousand years, maybe longer."

The land and Salish Lodge were previously owned by Washington's Muckleshoot tribe, which purchased them for $62.5 million in 2007, according to the Seattle Times. The lodge, which was built in 1919, is operated by Columbia Hospitality, which will continue their contract with the Snoqualmie tribe.

"People only see this fight in the small scale of this time. Since the signing of our treaty and the building of the Salish Lodge in 1916 which when it opened didn't allow any people of color, even tribal members, to enter, moving to today with us as the rightful owners once again of our land, it's a beautiful story that deserves to be shared," Ross told Newsweek.