The King County Council held a historic preservation "town hall" event earlier this week in the unlikely setting of the new, modernist city hall of one of the county's youngest cities: Sammamish. (Eight years old this month). Sammamish is a city plunked into the middle of the once-rural Sammamish Plateau outside and above Issaquah. This was a place my family used to visit on Sunday drives in the country. Now it is a full-fledged city with wide roads, a sprawling business district, and massive housing developments. Major road projects have been undertaken to make getting on and off the Plateau easier, but the traffic jams are still lousy. It took us more than an hour to get to the town hall due to eastbound Highway 520 rush-hour gridlock that started at Microsoft and lasted well east onto Highway 202 – the Redmond-Fall City Road. Before the Sahalee turn-off to Sammamish, the highway passes through a once-agricultural stretch of Redmond called Happy Valley, which, frankly, doesn't look so happy anymore, as the road-widening seems to be gobbling it up. This raises the obvious question: Is there anything here historic enough to preserve? The suburbs seem anti-historic because of the scale and newness of change: all malls and post-war subdivisions – or even post-dot-com-bust. But the burbs aren't blank slates. Suburban landscapes are actually filled with human heritage: old farms, railroad towns, scenic roadways, neighborhoods that are modernist middens of mid-century architecture, onetime artists colonies and resorts, turn-of-the-century power plants, assorted Grange, Masonic, and Odd Fellows halls, and Native-American archaeological sites. They are up against the urban/rural lines that manage growth by funneling it into designated cities, including new ones like Sammamish, to keep the rural country intact. This is where the rubber meets the road, historic preservation-wise. Can the tide of sprawl be managed so that we can have our history and our burgeoning planned communities? Despite the scale and rapidity of change, or maybe because of it, people in King County are stirred up about historic preservation. The meeting was standing-room-only, packed with preservationists ranging from farmers wanting county funds to save their barns to people hoping to save maritime treasures – or white elephants like the landmark sailing schooner Wawona, which Seattle has threatened to evict from South Lake Union, or the art-deco ferry Kalakala, which lives in exile from the city that made it famous. While Seattle frets about architectural significance of potential landmarks – some consider having their buildings nominated for landmark status as akin to getting the plague – many preservationists outside the city seem thrilled with the prospect of historic preservation and renovation. While there might be fewer grand buildings to save in the burbs, many worthy structures come with a countryside that is beautiful, still productive (berry farms, flower growers, wineries), and, if managed properly, can be an irresistible lure to tourists looking for postcard experiences. County preservation is, therefore, linked to other programs that focus on preserving the larger context, such as agriculture, open space, and heritage tourism. Thus, we heard about "Barn Again," which is a national, state, and now county effort to save old barns. It's safe to say that old barns are a popular fetish. When I edited Washington magazine back in the 1980s, I learned that readers had an endless appetite for "barn porn." Whether a dilapidated, weathered beast collapsing into blackberries like a wooly mammoth in a tar pit or a brightly painted red lunch-box classic with a thermos-like silo by its side, the lust for iconic barn photos is unquenchable. King County's program offers barn owners grants, low-interest loans, and tax incentives to fix up their barns. They have $75,000 in the pot for the first round of barn grants this year. They received 34 applications totaling more than $508,485 in requests. Combined with matching funds and donations the applicants would would kick in, it adds up to more than $900,000 worth of barn-saving. The King County Landmarks Comission has approved 11 of those requests. That's just the tip of the silo. Such unmet demand will build pressure for the county to beef up the Barn Again budget. And Julie Koler, the county's historic preservation officer, informed the town hall's attendees that barns aren't the only endangered farm legacy in the county. "Chicken houses are the new barns," she announced as she showed slides of these wonderful structures left over from the Ma and Pa Kettle years, when Western Washington was thick with chicken ranches. (Read Betty MacDonald's classic The Egg and I.) It seems ironic that some Seattle business people are complaining that historic presevation is a property-rights "taking" at the same time many rural property owners, who have at times considered seceding from the county over property rights, are begging for the benefits of government-funded preservation programs. One reason is that many rural developers have learned that there's gold in historic preservation and restoration. Seattle learned that with Pioneer Square, but it often gets lost in the go-go real estate market and the urbanist reshuffling of the city. Pioneer Square nostalgia is even seen as kind of tacky, as in the Underground Tour. But for some of King County's smaller communities, it's seen as an old-fashioned life-saver. Snoqualmie's downtown is one example of a revitalized community with a lovely rail station, old trains, and train rides to the famous falls. Another rail town with enormous potential is Skykomish, way out on Highway 2 on the way to Stevens Pass. Yes, it's in King County, but you have to go through Snohomish County and almost all the way to Chelan County to get there by car. The old downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the whole place is undergoing a massive environmental cleanup. When it's done, Skykomish has the potential to be the new Port Townsend, albeit with a wilderness setting. It would make a great rail-trip getaway (Amtrak's Empire Builder runs through there) and a charming base camp for exploring the North Cascades. Such restorations aren't easy, and sometimes communities have to make several tries to get it right. David Cook, a North Bend City Council member and real-estate agent, told the story of that city's experiment with trying to beef up tourist appeal. Before Interstate 90 bypassed it, and before the Twin Peaks-inspired tourism boomlet of the early 1990s, North Bend was the place for an apres-ski hamburger after a day at Snoqualmie Pass. In the 1970s, after traffic was rerouted around the town, there was an ill-advised attempt to copy Leavenworth's success with an ethnic makeover. Business owners slapped faux-Bavarian facades on their buildings to amp up the alpine feel. The problem, Cook said, was that there was no follow-through on the cultural side – no Oktoberfest, for example. He showed a picture of a Chinese restaurant in a fake chalet. Worse, low-lying North Bend has no scenic snow. Cook is working with the county to restore that Chinese chalet to its pre-Bavarian makeover state, because underneath it there's a lovely little early-20th-century building that will help restore the original feel of North Bend. The downside, joked King County Council member Julia Patterson, is that now "people in North Bend can no longer get Kung Pao wiener schnitzel." Julie Koler ran through a list of examples of concerns the county has. They include the destruction of Shoreline's modern ranch houses, Kirkland's bungalows, and hanging on to Bellevue's Hilltop neighborhood of mid-century modern gems. She says Seattle's rate of "teardowns" is also of "crisis proportions." (Despite that "crisis," the County Council members who attended the town hall – Reagan Dunn, Julia Patterson, Kathy Lambert, Peter Von Riechbauer, and Dow Constantine – mostly represent districts outside Seattle, though Constantine represents part of the city.) Restoring Des Moines Memorial Drive is another project – a tree-lined scenic roadway originally built to honor those who fought in World War I by reminding veterans of the French roads they marched along "over there." So is saving the historic Snoqualmie Power Plant, which was on the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation's "most endangered" list in 2005. (Here's the 2007 list.) In addition to the history we see, there's also the history we don't. Leon Leeds, professor of anthropology at Bellevue Community College, reminded the town hall attendees that King County holds major archaeological "resources" underground. If you date our "historical era" from Capt. George Vancouver's first survey of Puget Sound in the late-18th century, Leeds reminds us, the 200 some years since encompass less than 2 percent of human history in the region. With all the digging that comes with development, we could uncover the next Kennewick Man, he said. Would that be Kent Man? He reminded us that there are three major reasons to pay attention to possible archaeological sites. First, it's a good idea. Second, it's the law. And lastly, it can be ungodly expensive if you screw up. After the Washington State Department of Transportation undertook a hasty review of a drydock site near Port Angeles a few years ago, it found itself digging into the remains of an ancient Indian village and burial ground. WSDOT had to give up the project. The blunder cost them (us) $55 million, which, Leeds said, was a "high price to pay for a rare halibut hook of polished stone," one of the rare finds at the site. One shudders to think how many barns and chicken houses King County could have been saved with a fraction of that.