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Federation Forest State Park — May 2009

When we define "native plants" we refer to the coming of Euroamericans and the plants that were here at the time. This month we have several reasons to walk through a truly old, native forest on the very path the settlers of the Longmire party descended from Naches Pass into the lowlands of Puget Sound in 1853, 150 years ago this summer. Doing so we walk among the same majestic trees that greeted them, many of which were hundreds of years old even then.

Fifteen miles east of Enumclaw on Highway 410, Federation Forest State Park includes over 600 acres extending 3 miles along the highay on north bank of the White River. About 1.5 miles into the Park a parking area on the right below the highway provides access to the west end of the interpretive trails. There are vault toilets here.

The trail enters the forest from the east end of the parking at the base of a douglas fir over 6 feet in diameter. Start your plant list with groundcovers: foamflower on the one hand, wild ginger on the other. Descend the trail passed the kiosk to the riverbank. Continuing counter-clockwise around loop take the right hand trail where choices appear. This will lead you into the Naches Trail, the main route from Yakima to the Puget Sound region for over 30 years in the 19th century. There are two interpretive loop trails, this one of 1 mile will meet the other (about half as long) at a kiosk near the Interpretive Center. Walk the east loop trail and stop at the Center (warm water restrooms) before returning by the other half of this one.

May is an ideal time for the first visit of the year as the borders of the highway are lined with the bright green foliage and deep pink flowers of Scouler's corydalis. Along the forest trails yellow violets will be giving way to Star-flowered sololomon seal, Bunchberry and Twinflower. As May turns to June orchids Rattlesnake plantain, Heart-leaf twayblade and various wintergreens including Single delight, Pipsissewa, Prince's pine and saprophytes Indian pipes and Pinedrops arrive with the warm weather. Ferns, liverworts and mosses abound. But the real show are the trees. With Douglas-fir leading the way upward, Grand fir, Redcedar and Western hemlock dominate this old river terrace, now 30-40 feet above the river. On the lower level Sitka spruce, unusual this far inland, Redcedar and Black cottonwood occupy the area where the braiding river has been absent long enough. In the forest the trees are old, tall, close together and they are big. Of ten Douglas-firs measured four exceeded 21 feet in circumference as high up as I could reach. The largest was 24 feet. The largest cedar was over 19 foot. A spruce down on the level of the river was 13 feet. These trees over 20 feet are likely to be 300-400 years old. For perspective one can drive on up the highway to the Dalles Campground and visit a Douglas-fir that measures over 30 feet around, 9 and a half feet thick and is estimated to be 700 years old.

The other way to see this park is to drive a half mile further and take the main entrance arriving at the Interpretive Center. Inside the displays describe vegetation zones from all across the State. Outside there are related native planting beds complete with nametags. Printed trail guides are available for the loop trails. There are also other trails to be explored on both sides of the highway, picnic areas and access to the river's edge.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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