Walk in Arlington’s woods offers a fitting start to spring

  • Fri Mar 19th, 2010 11:06pm
  • News

By Gale Fiege Herald Writer

ARLINGTON — Today is the first day of spring, although people whose cherry trees are done blooming might think it came weeks ago.

The warmest January on record was followed by an equally mild February, coaxing daffodils and tulips to a head start. Even a few chilly March days didn’t slow the advent of spring.

Out in the woods, however, life is seasonably on schedule.

Bill Blake, Arlington’s natural resources manager, led a dozen people on a tour Friday through the woods between the soccer fields at Twin Rivers Park and the convergence of the north and south forks of the Stillaguamish River.

Originally a farm and a huge sand bar, the park’s forest is young and dominated by tall cottonwood trees. In the warm afternoon sunshine, budding cottonwood leaves produced a thick sweet smell, an intoxicating harbinger of spring to all but those with pollen allergies.

The Stauffer family of Arlington — Zachary, 4, and Kaiya, 7, and their parents Becky and Brian — joined Blake’s tour to learn more about the native plants on their own property a short distance upriver.

“What’s better than this? It’s such a beautiful start to spring,” Becky Stauffer said. “Especially for nature nerds like my husband and daughter.”

Blake identified an Indian plum, which produces a small fruit that turns from green, to orange and then suddenly purple in July when the birds snatch them up before most people even notice.

The snowberry bushes along the forest path were nearly bare, their white berries eaten by birds during the winter when food is sparse.

Hawthorne, vine maple, alder, red-flowering currant, cascara, red elderberry, salmon berry, thimble berry, red osier dogwood and Pacific willow are beginning to show their spring growth. Blake had guidebook photos to share, offering people a look at the plants in full leaf and bloom.

The tender shoots of many plants are favored by the deer that roam through the park, Blake said. He had the group listen for the bird songs of the towhee and the chickadee.

Across the river, a young couple sat and watched a pair of mallard ducks fly low across the north fork.

Blake pulled a rock from the river and pointed out the larvae of a may fly, an indication of a healthy environment for salmon, he said.

A century ago, a hotel stood at the river’s confluence, providing housing for pioneers brought upriver by canoe. The beach also was a favorite place of the Stillaguamish people, he said.

Blake gives similar tours in other seasons, but spring, he said, might be his favorite.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.