In the remains of the original old-growth stumps are notches left by lumberjacks 120 years ago. They jammed planks into those notches, giving them a place to stand as they pushed and pulled two-man crosscut saws through cedars, hemlocks and firs.
With Jordan Creek running through the stand of mossy tall trees and lush ferns, it's a place that's almost spiritual for 93-year-old tree farmer Earl Ingebright.
"Welcome to our rainforest," he said.
Last year, the 75-acre Valhalla was named the state's outstanding tree farm, an honor that makes Ingebright smile with pride.
Forestland covers about two-thirds of Snohomish County, making it the county's top land-use designation. Federal and state lands account for the higher-elevation forests, along with property owned by big timber companies.
Lowland forests, however, are typically owned by families. In fact, Snohomish County has more owners of small forestland than any other county in the state: About 23,000 owners manage more than 118,000 acres, said Kevin Zobrist, a forestry expert with the Washington State University Extension office in Mill Creek.
Like Ingebright, most owners of small forestlands in the county aren't in it to make a lot of money harvesting trees, and most have other incomes. They may periodically log their farms, but the main reason they keep their woods is because they like the beauty, the privacy, the wildlife and just knowing they are helping the environment, Zobrist said.
The family forests play an important role in the health of local watersheds and the health of the Salish Sea, Zobrist said. Small forests clean the air. They retain water, which helps prevent flooding and filter the water that runs from creeks, into rivers and out to Puget Sound.
"Snohomish County is still growing and there is a lot of pressure to develop this forestland," Zobrist said. "With help, land owners can keep and maintain their forests."
Earl Ingebright and his son, David, 58, live on their farm. To be considered for the Washington Tree Farm Program's tree farm of the year, they applied for farm certification, wrote a forest stewardship management plan and took a forestry class from Zobrist.
They learned about the land-use property tax breaks available to them, wildlife habitat enhancement, forest thinning and wildfire risk reduction and how to sell specialty forest products. They learned the best ways to plant new trees after a harvest and how to promote the growth of native plants while getting rid of invasive weeds.
"It was a nice surprise to get the tree farm award," Earl Ingebright said. "We've made mistakes over the years, but we've had some wonderful help to get us where we are."
Earl and his wife, Laurine Ingebright, were high school sweethearts who've been married 73 years. In 1959, they bought the tree farm, located up against Deer Mountain between Arlington and Granite Falls.
"My wife wanted a place on Hood Canal, but I fell in love with this woods, and she gave in," said Earl, who studied forestry in college. "It's so beautiful here."
For a while, the Ingebrights, their daughters and their son spent most weekends and vacations in the two-bedroom homesteader's shack on the property. The small home still stands, and one can see the 1901 newspapers that the first owners pasted up against the walls to keep the sawdust insulation from spilling out.
The Ingebrights hosted family gatherings there, salmon barbecues, church picnics, Boy Scout camp-outs and swimming parties at the beaver pond.
In the mid-1970s, after Earl retired from the U.S. Postal Service and David's stint in the Coast Guard ended, the men decided to get serious about their forest. Though David went to work for Boeing, the pair clear-cut the front 20 acres in 1987 and replanted it with Douglas fir seedlings.
With the money from the harvest, the Ingebrights built two houses, barns and bridges across the creek. Earl Ingebright also built a small cabin, a Norsk hytte, at the back of the property on scenic hill overlooking Jordan Creek, a coho salmon stream that runs through the second-growth forest.
He credits his longevity and good health to the work he's done on his tree farm.
On a recent rainy March day, Zobrist and the Ingebrights walked through Valhalla Tree Farm, talking about the cougar scratching post on a stump near the cabin, bird habitat in the trees downed in recent winds, root rot, flying squirrels and dwarf mistletoe in the trees.
For a while, they just stood.
"Rain falling in the woods is one of the sweetest sounds on Earth," Zobrist said. "It soothes the soul."
Earl Ingebright nodded in agreement.
"We've made good use of this place and haven't wasted even one piece of firewood," he said.
"But the best thing about the farm and what we've done here is the time my son and I have spent together. You can't put a price on that."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Woodland owners are invited to attend a nine-week course on forestry stewardship, which meets from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays evenings from April 12 through June 7 at the Snohomish County Washington State University Extension auditorium, 600 128th St. SE, Everett.
Class participants develop a personalized forest stewardship plan to be eligible for cost-share assistance programs and significant property tax reductions.
More information is available at http://snohomish.wsu.edu/forestry/ or by calling 425-357-6017.
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