BRUSH PRAIRIE — If a tree falls in the forest but nobody hears it, can it still be reported by your local newspaper?
Yes. While exploring the Lauretta Norene Forest Preserve, take a careful look at a big trunk in the southeastern section that looks freshly toppled across the trail. Many large and small holes reveal where birds, insects and other critters have gone probing for life-sustaining leftovers.
A few miles northeast of here, the deeper, denser Salmon-Morgan Creeks Natural Area offers more examples of nature doing one of the things it does best: recycling.
The Salmon-Morgan Creeks Natural Area and the Lauretta Norene Forest Preserve are examples of what the “forest primeval” might have been like in Clark County before settlers turned our central flatlands into farmland. Because of some long-ago logging and other human impacts, they don’t quite qualify as old-growth forests but can accurately be called “second growth.”
Whatever you call them, each site is a small, contained patch of deep woods, offering easy (if muddy) hiking among trees at every age and stage, from new sprouts to grand giants to decaying logs that help keep forest life cycling along.
On the web
Salmon-Morgan Creeks Natural Area information: www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/salmon-morgan-creek
Lauretta Norene Forest Preserve and Groth Nature Area information:
FIND A TRAIL
Clark County trails: clark.wa.gov/public-works/trails
These sites are deemed natural areas, not neighborhood parks, but both are tucked into central Clark County neighborhoods on dead-end roads. If you’re in the mood for some deep-forest exploration — and sheer awe — without having to travel far or hike hard, Salmon-Morgan and Lauretta Norene are right next door.
On a sunny spring morning, the Salmon-Morgan Creeks Natural Area gleams with sunlight filtering down through a thick, complicated, mossy canopy. A hiker’s sense of surprise and majesty might be tempered only slightly by the need to keep an eye on the occasionally gloppy path.
To reach this 81-acre island of nearly raw nature, visitors must nose their way along the quiet streets of an upscale neighborhood adjacent to the Cedars on Salmon Creek Golf Course (between Hockinson and Battle Ground). Find your way to Northeast 152nd Avenue and drive north to the T intersection. Take a right on Northeast 181st Street, which bends right, then left on 159th Avenue, right on 183rd Street and left on dead-end 161st Avenue.
Be mindful that you’re surrounded by private property and pedestrians as you drive in and park. There’s an alternate entry farther west on 183rd Street, but 161st Avenue offers a proper welcome with a pair of informational kiosks and maps, one of which provides a guide to the Salmon-Morgan’s grandest, most noteworthy trees and even supplies their trunk diameters in inches.
Western red cedars reign supreme here, and several trunks have diameters in the 50-plus-inch range — well over 4 feet thick. The natural area also encompasses grand and Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, Pacific yews and, according to one informational panel, a single Oregon white oak whose presence here is “testament to the species’ ability to thrive” in spots where it’s usually crowded out by taller, faster growing trees. (White oaks are more often found where conditions are tougher overall, whether much drier or much wetter.) Red alder trees cluster in the northwest corner of the site.
“The trees here are big, and the forest is lush with a carpet generally void of the dreaded invasive species that have all too often taken over more urban settings,” trail expert Craig Romano writes in his “Urban Trails Vancouver Washington” book. “Its stand of mature cedars is one of the finest in Clark County.”
Two loops and a connecting trail add up to almost 2 miles of hiking. Viewpoints overlook Morgan Creek and its confluence with Salmon Creek. You’ll note plenty of ancient stumps in this forest, which are evidence of selective logging here by German immigrant Louis Lieser in 1886.
“The second growth that has reclaimed this property is now well over a century old and beginning to develop old-growth characteristics,” Romano writes. According to Clark County, the whole site is within a state-designated biodiversity area and is a key corridor for wildlife.
According to the county, 87 housing lots with necessary roadways were proposed for the site in the 1990s. That proposal eventually died, and local residents convinced the county to set the site aside in 2006 through its conservation futures fund.
Today, the Salmon-Morgan Creeks site is dense with diverse tree life — and even tree death, which you can see in the rich nurse logs that feed life anew. On a recent morning, the canopy was positively noisy with birdsong.
You won’t find any maps or tree information here, but this island of towering trees amidst gentle, rolling meadows feels more compact and less remote than the Salmon-Morgan Creeks Natural Area. You’re likely to run into dog walkers in the woods or on the perimeter trail.
A years-old county report says the Norene/Groth site could eventually become part of a larger county or regional park but there are no plans for that now. Meanwhile, this little-known nugget of forest abides.