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Asahel Curtis Trails: A Slice of the Northwest — October 2003

By Fred Weinmann, Dedicated to Margaret Bergman

The Asahel Curtis picnic area and trails are right along Interstate 90 at exit 47 (and in fact much of the preservation area is centered between the east bound and west bound lanes of the freeway) on the way to Snoqualmie Pass. The Asahel Curtis natural area has been a destination for WNPS field trips and for field trips taken by the Native Plant Stewardship classes, but has never been hi-lighted as a Walk of the Month. Perhaps the place is too well known, or too easy to find; but what it does is remind me of the many field trips that Rick and Margaret frequently led in the early 90s when Rick was field trip coordinator for the Chapter. These were family oriented hikes to beautiful places that typify our northwest ecosystems.

Don’t turn off on the way to Snoqualmie Pass, but continue to the pass to admire the red, yellow, and burnt orange colors provided by vine maple, huckleberry and other species growing on the slopes of Denny Peak, Guye Peak etc.; then turn back west and stop at the Asahel Curtis picnic area (This is the area between the east and west bound lanes of I-90, not the large parking lot south of I-90. No parking pass required.). Park at the Memorial Grove area and take the sign marked nature trail. Follow this trail as it passes by the giants of the forest and down to the banks of the South Fork Snoqualmie River, here just a small stream during the low flows of late summer and early fall. Spend some time at the river to admire whitewater riffles flowing into turquoise pools.

The trail continues as it passes under the east bound lanes of I-90 and ending at the main Asahel Curtis parking lot. From here take the 1-mile loop trail that continues through old growth forest with monster trees adjacent to the trail. This is the trail well known for its orchids and other species characteristic of the dark, damp under story of the old growth forest. Return via the nature trail taking the time to walk one or more of the loop trails internal to the picnic area. In total a walk exceeding three miles can be pieced together, all of it within old growth forests, along a nice riparian corridor of the Snoqualmie river, and past some fine examples of forested wetlands.

Within the mixed stand of old growth trees are trees of western redcedar over 25 feet around, Douglas fir over 15 feet around, and 300 year old western hemlock trees. By October, the squirrels will have removed the seeds and dropped the remaining bracts of the silver fir cones to soften the trail. The understory is classic northwest. In the depressions and drainages are skunk cabbage, devil’s club, salmonberry and other species of the wetlands; in dryer areas solomon’s seal, twinflower, thimbleberry etc. But we don’t go here to record species diversity or see individual species, but to marvel at this little piece of forest in its totality. Dominated by trees that began their lives over 500 years ago and are healthy and thriving today and the forest of the next century which makes its appearance on nurse logs and nurse stumps.

Asahel Curtis is not an out of the way or secret place; but within its boundaries are much of what is precious about our northwest forests. It is a fitting place to reflect on the things Margaret cherished: peace, wild plants, people, natural beauty, and a calm soul.

Updated: July 2, 2016
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