On the overcast morning of Sept. 26, Baker Lake Trail was introduced as Whatcom County’s first entrant into the national Old-Growth Forest Network. A small crowd of area residents gathered amid the trees, some estimated to be over 120 years old, to watch the historic ceremony and participate in the dedication hike.
Baker Lake Trail is 65 miles from Bellingham, or roughly a 90 minute drive. The trail is accessible from the north and south and runs for 14.3 miles point-to-point.
Sarah Horsley, who has a doctorate in philosophy and is the network manager for the Old-Growth Forest Network, said “[The Network is] thrilled to recognize old-growth forests and their stewards in Washington. In addition to creating a network of forests, we are also creating a network of people who care about forests."
Baker Lake Trail will join Olympic National Park, the Rhododendron Preserve and the North Fork Sauk Trail as the first set of Washington forests to be recognized in the Old-Growth Forest Network. Network forests have formal protection in place that ensures that their trees and ecosystems are secured from commercial logging. All Network forests are open to the public so that everyone can experience them for recreation and personal well-being.
The Old-Growth Forest Network envisions preserving at least one forest in every county in the United States that can sustain forests of native trees.
“We focus on ensuring protection for the remaining old-growth forests across the country,” Horsley said. “We also work to make sure that areas without old-growth forests can have protected forests that will age into one.”
Jerry Franklin, a professor of ecosystem analysis at the University of Washington and 2016 recipient of the Pinchot medallion for his conservation work, knows their value far better than most.
“Old-growth forests have exceptional value,” Franklin said. “They are capable of providing habitat for a very broad array of species.”
Along with promoting biodiversity, Franklin said old-growth plays an important role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. As trees grow older they start to grow faster, allowing them to absorb more carbon.
Preservation of forests is especially important here in the Pacific Northwest, as the wet weather reduces the impact of wildfires. According to Franklin, these are forests that can normally grow for centuries between the occurrence of natural wildfires.
“Old-growth forests are exceptional examples of what forests can become if allowed to develop on their own,” said Franklin.
Kylie Maioriello, a Western Washington University student and member of The Planet Magazine, was able to attend the ceremonial hike with Horsley. Maioriello recommended students who are interested in preservation efforts check out the Huxley College events page, or get involved with events through The Outback Farm.
The Outback holds volunteer events twice a week during academic quarters. Maioriello said these parties typically involve clearing invasive species and picking up litter. For fall 2021, these will be Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
For students who know of beautiful natural spaces not featured in the Old-Growth Network, Horsley has good news.
“We are continuing to expand our forests in Washington, so if any students want to volunteer with us to help identify and include other special forests they can sign up on our website,” said Horsley.
Trails at Baker Lake are open year-round and pass multiple campgrounds to allow for overnight ventures. Visitors parking at the trailheads should have their recreation pass on display, or day passes can be purchased on-site.
If Baker Lake is too far for you but you still want to see some beautiful natural places, Maioriello recommends students check out the hiking trails around Lake Padden, Larrabee State park, and of course, the Sehome Hill Arboretum nestled up against Western’s campus.
David (he/him) is a Journalism major and city life reporter for The Front. Outside of the newsroom, David spends his time gaming with friends, listening to music, and petting his cat Asher. You can contact him any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.