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Youth-on-Age Interpretive Trail — April 2006

Youth-on-Age (Tolmiea menziesii), so called because buds at the base of old leaves form new leaves that can root to form new plants, is just one example of new life from old in the old growth forest at Youth-on- Age Interpretive Trail east of Granite Falls.

Massive Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) buttresses reflect the ancient nurse logs they germinated on. The soil that supports the big trees is a dynamic system where decomposer organisms convert non-living organic material into the mineral nutrients plants need. Soil organisms even help build new soil. Carbon dioxide from the respiration of soil organisms, including plant roots, mixes with water to form carbonic acid that is a very important chemical weathering mechanism in the production of “fines,” the small mineral particles in soil. Living and non-living organisms are key elements that allow our young, acidic soils to support the tremendous amount of biomass in the old forest.

Begin the short loop trail near the restroom. Wander either direction. Sword fern (Polystichum munitum), youth-on-age, and young grand fir (Abies grandis) grow in the understory. Mossy vine maples (Acer circinatum) weave their tangled branches through forest gaps. Lichens droop from woody vegetation short and tall. Those that fall crunch underfoot, and feed the forest. Near the South Fork Stillaguamish River see large old Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and younger western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla).

The big old trees can have up to 60 million needles. This offers a very large surface area to capture sunlight for primary production. The evergreen needles also store nutrients, keeping them from washing away into the river. That is, when the trees themselves don’t wash into the river. Trees, and the trail along the cut bank, frequently fall into the river. Huge logjams from this and forests far upstream can be seen. In stream, the big trees alter the hydrology and create important habitat, nutrient, and energy sources for the aquatic ecosystem.

To visit the floodplain, look for a side trail near the trailhead that leads through a red alder (Alnus rubra)-salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) community. The trail ends at a recently flooded area covered in freshly deposited silt. It is possible to wander upstream on older sandbars now colonized by willows (Salix sp.).

The 0.4 mile paved interpretive trail is wheelchair accessible. Bring a picnic and come prepared to let the cycling of the old forest rejuvenate you.

Directions: drive the Mountain Loop Highway east from Granite Falls to MP 18.7. The parking lot is on the south side of the highway, just past Red Bridge.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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