Adventure Awaits in our Ancient Forests

Ancient forest in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness

A month and a half in to my book sabbatical (read Blog #1 here), the summer is flying by too quickly. How does one get started on a book project?! I think I'm figuring it out...

Background work:
This first month or so of my sabbatical to work on Oregon’s Ancient Forests has been chock full of essential, but not real action-rich, tasks: Finalizing a contract with The Mountaineers Books, making complex spreadsheets of hike information, reading the original book thoroughly and making lots of notes, creating a digital map of all the hikes, and getting gear and other “systems” in place. Getting organized, in other words. I don’t feel done with that, per se, but done enough that I feel like this project might actually be within my grasp.

Time for adventures:
Luckily, I’ve also started to move beyond all this background work and actually started knocking out some hikes too! So far I’ve just stuck pretty close to home, going on hikes in the Umpqua and Willamette National Forests. Some, like the Hackleman Old Growth Grove have been easily accessible and easy to hike. Others, like Canton Creek in the Umpqua National Forest were a bit harder to find and had a “trail” that hadn’t been maintained in years. Some of the hikes I’ve done so far have been old favorites - like the Spotted Owl, Emerald Forest, and South Fork Breitenbush Trails near Breitenbush Hot Springs where some friends have a summer cabin. Others have been brand new to me, and exciting new discoveries, like the Echo Basin Trail just off Hwy 20 near Tombstone Pass. How have I never been here before?! It was spectacular!

I’m doing my best to note interesting things along the trail that could be included in the book - whether on a specific hike, or in some background sections. I won’t spoil any surprises there, but I’m getting lots of ideas. I’m definitely seeing that, even within the confines of the western Cascades, there is a lot of diversity in our ancient forests. From Alaska yellow cedar, to Noble fir, to our signature Douglas-fir, there are amazing specimens, as well as amazing tracts of forest to be explored.

Stats:

  • Total miles: 35
  • Total hikes completed: 12
  • Biggest trees to date: Along Elk Lake Creek, in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness
  • Best discovery to date: Echo Basin for it’s huge Alaska yellow cedars and gorgeous wet meadows
  • Worst road to get to a hike to date: Road 4687 to Elk Lake

I’ve also been taking note - because it’s hard not to - of some of the forests that have been hard-hit by both past and current “management” (i.e. logging), as many ancient forest areas are surrounded by logging roads and old clearcuts. Perhaps the saddest place I’ve visited so far is the remnants of “Millenium Grove.” This area along Three Creeks, a tributary to the South Santiam River, was discovered in the mid-1980s to have possibly the oldest Douglas-fir forest in Oregon - between 800-900 years old. As a series of timber sales was about to further fragment and devastate this forest, environmental activists and conservation groups took note - Earth First! activists set up a tree-sit protest, Oregon Wild’s (then ONRC) Andy Kerr named the grove, and groups worked to draw media attention to the plight of this forest. Public outcry at Willamette Industries (the company set to log the area) and Willamette National Forest was strong and steady, but in the end, the planned logging was completed.  

The forest near Gordon Lakes, at the edge of the Millennium Grove

In Wendell’s original book, he talks about seeing some of the grove from certain points along the drive to Gordon Lakes - which is at the west end of the Millenium Grove. Sadly, I believe that was because the clearcuts in 1990 were still so fresh. Today, it’s even harder to catch a glipse of this ancient forest from the road, and the area is too fragmented by old clearcuts to really get to the remaining ancient forest - now protected under the Northwest Forest Plan. 25 years later, the young tree plantations replanted after clearcutting the 800 year old forest have grown tall - but they aren’t a replacement for the forest that was lost. They never will be.

I’m still figuring out what’s next, but the rest of this month will include some of the State Parks and trails of the Siuslaw National Forest on the northern Oregon coast, and some hikes in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and southern Cascades. (Don’t get too jealous - there are mosquitos out there...) I’m looking forward to getting further afield, into parts of Oregon I haven’t been, and truly exploring so I can bring these ancient forests home to you! (Follow my adventures on Facebook and Instagram!)

You can also be a part of this project by sponsoring the development of “A Guide to Oregon’s Ancient Forests”! Click here to donate.