New trail greets visitors

Joseph Whidbey State Park is only officially open April through October. But people head to the closed park daily, attracted by its sweeping view of water, beachcombing possibilities and flat, relatively easy walking along the marsh trail.

So far, only a few people have discovered a new trail at the park, one that leads through woods and skirts a field between Crosby Road and the marsh. Previously, only one trail wandered around a few picnic tables and then headed down to the beach. A few other trails, not more than animal paths, headed deeper into the woods but these quickly ended – blocked by fallen trees or thick salal growth.

But over the past few months, one wide trail has been cut through the woods. Once in the field, orange flagging tape tied to trees and bushes mark the route.

“It’s a nice new area,” Bill Applegate said. The Oak Harbor man and his dog Baby routinely walk at Joseph Whidbey.

“My dog loves chasing squirrels in the woods,” he said.

The woods hold more life than squirrels. In ankle-snapping tangles of nettles, Indian-plum, currant and mossed over alder just off the cleared trail, winter wrens, juncoes, spotted towhees and sparrows forage. Deer trails wander between fern. Woodpeckers’ industry is seen and heard. Their rattling drum on trees carries and their excavations in snags show clearly. In the litter of the forest floor, small, unseen critters rustle in leaves and scurry over huge fallen logs that are slowly disintegrating under carpets of moss and tiny flowers.

“The new trail is great for days when the wind off the water is brutal,” Applegate said. “But socially, for dogs and people, the action is along the marsh trail and on the beach.”

The new trail may never attract the traffic the beach and marsh do. The trail through the woods is fairly level and clear, suitable for strolling. But in the field, the going is much rougher.

Rucked up hillocks of grass and mats of weeds make walking a challenge. A person must pay attention to footing to remain upright. The marsh trail requires little coordination and thought, making that area excellent for a person’s mind to wander.

In spite of the rougher going, the field provides a wonderful overlook of the marsh with an even more panoramic view of the water. An earth berm, the original rifle range for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station before the Navy deeded the land to the state, offers a look at the marsh pond. Cattails and Nootka rose bushes along with hardhack shrubs screen the view from the marsh trail. From the vantage of the berm, the view sweeps north to Rocky Point and west to Vancouver Island.

“This is a great walk,” Brent Tornga said Wednesday afternoon as he and his yellow Lab Jake were exploring. “Jake loves the run but I’ll need to wear older boots next time.”

As the land slopes down to the water, areas of the field trail turn mucky and some downright swampy. Here, bits of fern are poking up and silverweed, a marsh-loving native plant, is turning green at the base of winter-shriveled stalks.

But hints of green aren’t the only color in the field. Pale orange and green blush along alder catkins. Sap running in willows and rose flares yellow and red. Where the trail swings back to the woods, three old orchard trees show faintest pink petals, remnants of the time when the land held a home and garden.

The trail in the field may be modified or re-routed some but state parks staff hope to keep its length at about a mile, the rough distance it is today.

“By early summer, hopefully May or June, the trail should be finished and fully marked,” Sharon Soelter, a state parks assistant ranger, said.

But the unfinished trail will get regular visitors before Joseph Whidbey State Park opens for the season April 1.

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