By Leif Nesheim
The Sylvia Creek Forestry Trail is still there despite a major logging operation and downed trees near one end. The trail is one of the more popular trails traversing the Montesano City Forest. It recently re-opened after logging on Healthy Hill ended. However, I received a report from a reader that the trail was impassable because of downed trees at the beginning of the logged area, so I decided to check it out.
The trail begins near the dam at the southern end of Lake Sylvia; the trail follows the creek for a mile, before crossing it and returning on the far side. On the morning I went, thin ribbons of mist rose from the mirror-smooth lake. Sunlight reflected off the green, glassy water beneath the mist.
Crossing the dam and hiking the southeast side of the creek is the fastest way to the logged area. After a quarter-mile to a third of a mile or so, one reaches the boundary between Lake Sylvia State Park and the city forest. It's marked by a sign and several downed trees and branches crossing the trail. My dog, Dodge, and I crossed over and under the first obstructions before coming around a corner where one gets a glimpse of the logged landscape ahead. What's left of the trail disappeared beneath the uprooted roots of a downed tree. If the rest of the trail crossing the denuded hillside were as rugged going as the first 50 feet were, there's no way I'd make it through. I turned around and decided to hike the loop from the other direction and see how far I got.
Back at the dam -- the original was built in 1868, but the current wooden dam was installed in the 1920s to provide electricity for the city -- I crossed the creek and headed down the other bank.
It's a mostly level trail providing access to pretty scenery and a handful of fishing holes. This trail also provides some educational opportunities; brochures at the trailhead provide interesting information about the trail.
The wide, level path heads through tall stands of second-growth forest. Much of the forest was logged in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century before the city bought the land in 1931 to serve as its source of drinking water.
Logging resumed in the 1950s, after the forest had regenerated naturally, with planned reforestation beginning in the '70s.
The creek babbles down a bank to the left, visible between the boughs and trunks of fir trees and some scattered maple and alder. Ferns, salmonberry and other plants rise in the understory.
Several side trails head down the bank to the river to fishing holes. In a couple of places, the trail heads down to small footbridges crossing tributary streams.
After one such dip is the only steep segment of the trail, and its really not all that long or steep, followed by an area -- between the end and beginning of the Hamby Hill Loop, an optional hike extension -- that was clearcut in 1988. The trees here are younger, thinner and much closer together. It may have been my favorite part of the hike, as the needles on the ground kept the forest floor relatively bare and gave a remote, dense feel to the forest's ambience.
The creek spreads out into a narrow pond thanks to a beaver dam. I looked for beaver, but didn't see any. Instead, I saw the water trickling over the low point in their construct. I watched a while.
After the beaver pond, the trail is higher above the stream for a while, with a precipice heading down to the water before the trail dips down to a bridge crossing the creek. The area is much more open, thanks to timber felled in a windstorm several years ago, and I made my way across the segmented bridge. The light in the open was in sharp contrast to the denser dark of the forest.
The old streamside route is closed, the detour is just a short bit ahead, it requires a hike over a short rise and back down again. There is a sign marking the Sylvia Creek loop; where it turns to climb the rise is another sign indicating a private trail. That's actually now within the city forest, as the city recently purchased the land from The Weyerhaeuser Co. I got sidetracked and decided to explore the trail to see where exactly it comes out. I went quite a ways and near the top of a hill, with no end in sight, I decided to resume my initial hike. On the way back I met a man I know who lives near the park. He explained where the trails to Simpson Avenue and Ninth Street turned off from the main trail I was on (I had just passed one of them when I turned around and could see the other from were we spoke). He also reported that there were only a few downed trees blocking the trail and they'd been felled by recent wind, not the logging.
Once back on the trail, I found the 1880s' saw blade stuck in an alder. I found the other half of the blade -- which I never had noticed before -- on the other side of the trail in the weeds along the creek bank.
The trail continues alongside the stream. Pretty, fleeting views of the pond and stream are visible between the trees and branches. Soon I came upon the logged area. Stumps spread out in a wide swath. The hill is cleared and the radio tower atop it is clearly visible. (Had I continued on my detour, I would have ended up at the radio tower).
The clearcut ends at the trail, which skirts the logged area. It's a close-up view of the aftermath of a large logging operation. The trees here had been among the oldest in the city forest, some 90 years old. The city forestry plan calls for a roughly 55-year rotation. Over the past couple of years, the city has had the oldest tracts of its forest logged; the trees there were larger than most sawmills can handle, so the market is limited. The Healthy Hill tract was the last of the oldest second-growth to be cut. I hope in 20 years it'll look like my favorite part of the hike.
I had to cross a couple of uprooted trees and briefly got off the trail as the route skirted the flank of the hill and logged area. The trail then turns sharply right and heads through the clearcut up the hill. The route was flagged.
I soon came upon the uprooted tree that had stopped me before. Apparently, had I gone around the root wad, it would have been easy hiking from there on out. A hop, skip and a jump over and under the fallen trees and I was back in the state park headed to the lake.