About a hundred yards up the Moulton Falls Trail, Alice Perry Linker marvels at the forest canopy that envelopes the path and dapples the sunlight.
“You feel like you’re out in the wilderness,” she said about a hundred yards away from the parking lot at the Hantwick Road Trailhead.
But her enjoyment of the place is also marred by concern over how it’s going to look within a couple years should a logging operation be approved in the area.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the land that part of the trail sits on, is bundling the site with three others for a timber sale they’re calling the Michigan Trotter Timber Sale. The proposed sale date is January. Whoever buys the timber will have two logging seasons to harvest. DNR is obligated to sell state-trust land timber to generate revenue to benefit public institutions such as schools, universities and prisons. And DNR officials say the logging around the parks will be done in a way that is mindful of the area’s popularity with recreation enthusiasts.
But Linker, a Sierra Club member, said she is just one of a long list of people that have concerns about logging along the trail and want to see it stopped.
The trails go through about 5,000 feet of a 60-acre unit of state trust land that hasn’t been logged in at least half a century. When harvesting begins, trees next to or very near the path will be cut down along 2,500 feet of the uphill side of the trail.
In addition to the marketable conifers, Clark County is requesting the alders that overhang the trail be removed as a safety precaution.
The sale is hardly the first of its kind in the area. The Bells Mountain trail, which branches off the trail to Moulton Falls went through a recent clear-cut. Regardless, the idea of logging so close to such an easily accessible and popular area is concerning for people with close ties to it.
Randy Williams, president of the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Association, said he worries that logging the hillside will strip away much of what makes a train ride so appealing.
“When we take passengers out, we go right through that area,” he said. “My concern is the decimation of the viewscape, which is part of the enticement to ride our train. It’s so pretty out there.”
He worries that if the train draws fewer passengers, it’ll have a cascading effect on the network the railroad has established with small local businesses.
Brian Poehlein, DNR Pacific Cascade Region state lands district manager, said the area isn’t going to be clear-cut, but rather logged via a variable retention harvest, which stands somewhere in between. The technique leaves patchy clumps of trees, and a few individual standing trees, as well as leaving other plant species on the landscape.
Poehlein said the state is requiring the timber company that buys the logging rights to leave a buffer around waterways and leave another eight trees per acre. Additionally, the state will mitigate the visual impacts of logging by leaving a few large old conifers standing near the trail. They’ll log it in the winter when fewer people are enjoying outdoor recreation, and they’ll have to keep the trail clear on weekends and holidays.
When the state replants the site, it won’t use herbicide to kill the remaining understory — which is a common practice prior to replanting — but instead will create spots for the new trees.
“We are doing things out of the ordinary because of the trail,” he said.
Clark County also owns an 8-acre triangle of forest inside DNR’s land. At this point, neither entity is sure how that happened, but they’re in the early stages of planning a land swap after the logging is complete. The current thought is that the state will get the triangle of land and the county will get the trail plus some other nearby land. But any agreement would have to be approved by the Clark County Council.
“In the long term, we’ve really been trying to establish an East Fork Lewis River greenway; this provides another chunk in that long-term vision, not just an easement,” said Kevin Tyler, Clark County public works parks & lands division lands manager. “This would essentially provide the next section of property in that greenbelt and connect us up with the Hantwick Road Trailhead.”
Vancouver resident Linda Lorenz owns property on the other side of the river from the unit that has a sweeping view of the hillside where the timber operations are planned. On weekends, she and Linker have been out informing people about the sale and gathering signatures to send to Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. Lorenz is pushing to have the unit transferred out of the trust program, given its recreational significance and the view it offers. But based on what she’s heard from DNR officials she’s not optimistic. She bought the land planning to build a house up there one day, but if the logging does go through, she’ll probably sell and move on.
“Why would I want to look at that every day? It’d make my heart sick,” she said. “I’m looking at 80-year-old trees. It’s a beautiful view. I’m not going to sit here and look at a clear-cut.”