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Tolt River John MacDonald Park in Carnation — March 2003

By Holly Zox

Nothing says spring like Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis). This dioecious member of the rose family, hidden in the understory most of the year, is the first shrub to bloom in the new year. In my woods, the day the first Indian plum blossoms open is often the day the tree frogs begin their chorus. A good place to begin your own chorus to spring is Tolt River John MacDonald Park in Carnation.

This King County park at the confluence of the Tolt and Snoqualmie rivers includes both riparian and upland forest. A fine loop with a little of each can be made by crossing the swinging bridge over the Snoqualmie and heading toward Small Group Camp, but angling northwest almost immediately (across from the bathrooms) to the right, along some cottonwoods (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa) then Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and campsite 17. Pass a triangular fire shelter and enter the forest on an old railroad grade. Fine middle-aged cedars (Thuja plicata), western hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla), and sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) dominate the uphill side of the trail, while epiphyte-laden bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) and salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) predominate downhill. The grade parallels the Snoqualmie 50 to 100 feet below.

Where the forest cover has been carried downhill by landslides, note exposed sand. Once the river was up this high.

Continue north on the grade, passing a junction with a cutoff trail that leads down to Large Group Camp, flagged by a spindly yew (Taxus brevifolia). Skip over small streams and note a nice colony of dark green slough sedge (Carex obnupta) punctuating the emerald glow of moss-draped maples.

Hooker's fairybells (Disporum hookeri) dangle before the trail turns and drops steeply towards the river. Hear the sound of rushing water. Detour left (north) toward the sound, where the trail hits a T at the bottom of the hill. Duck (low) under mossy vine maples (Acer circinatum) and cedar boughs and enter a little wonderland. Pacific waterleaf (Hydrophyllum tenuipes), bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), and Scouler's corydalis (Corydalis scouleri) rise above a carpet of fan moss (Rhizomnium glabrescens), Menzies' tree moss (Leucolepis acanthoneuron), and electrified cat's-tail moss (Rhytidialphus triquetrus). Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum aleuticum) and piggyback plant (Tolmiea menziesii) drip overhead and over the stream cascading into the beaver pond that will slow its way into the river.

Backtrack to the intersection (T) and continue on improved trail slightly downhill toward the river. You're in the river bottom now, maples and cottonwoods towering overhead, a tangle of salmonberry and snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus var. albus) brushing into your head.

This trail intersects the river trail at the next T. Turn right (south) and soon reach a grassy opening with a big picnic shelter, Large Group Camp. See here Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) thickets. My dog looks for rabbits. Look also for northern flickers, bald eagles, and red-tail hawks (and their nests). Continue on the road/trail south to the bridge. Fishermen's paths lead to river access.

Rivers are highways for plant material. It's all here, every native you'd hope to find in a lowland western hemlock forest, and every noxious and obnoxious weed.

This park is easy to get lost in. Trails are many, unmarked, and unmapped. Keep a landmark, such as the river, in your bearings. Allow one hour for this easy walk.

Directions: Drive highway 203 just south of downtown Carnation, just north of the Tolt River bridge. Turn west at the sign for Tolt River John MacDonald Park.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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