Ewa Klosek uses a stick to help her down the rugged trail of Oyster Dome in 2010. Crews have been working on the trail.

Ewa Klosek uses a stick to help her down the rugged trail of Oyster Dome in 2010. Crews have been working on the trail.

Improved trail makes Oyster Dome hike a pleasure

For years, I’d heard about the view from Oyster Dome, a classic Washington hike off of Chuckanut Drive, northwest of Burlington. Hikers told me about its wide views that make it a lovely place to enjoy the sunset. No one, however, mentioned anything about the hike itself — unless to mention that the trail was kind of nasty.

Well, the trail’s not nasty anymore, and Oyster Dome would be well worth a hike, even if there weren’t a lovely view at the top. It’s a great workout and you can easily make it a loop trip with a stop at a little lake. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to see hang gliders launching themselves into the air.

The first section of trail gives you no time to warm up. You start at Chuckanut Drive and immediately begin climbing switchbacks on a good but sometimes steep trail. After about 2 miles, the trail joins with the Samish Bay Connector, which leads to Oyster Dome.

Sections of this trail used to be what Arlen Bogaards, northwest regional manager for the Washington Trails Association, calls a fall-line trail. In other words, it basically went straight uphill. And when it rained, water went straight downhill. All the moving water meant a lot of erosion and a very rooty, rocky trail.

Thanks to work from the WTA, the trail is much improved. When I hiked the trail recently with a friend, we couldn’t stop exclaiming about the trail. It’s really a thing of beauty.

Bogaards said WTA started working on the trail in the fall of 2014. The Washington Conservation Corps, in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, already had been working on the trail.

When WTA got involved in the project, they came up with a larger vision for a more sustainable trail — one that would need less maintenance and wouldn’t cause as much erosion.

The new trail goes across the hill with a series of beautifully constructed switchbacks.

When I hiked the trail, I noticed a particular section that had been re-routed away from a low-lying muddy area. The trail crews did a masterful job of disguising the old trail. I suspect it won’t be long until you won’t be able to see it at all.

When my hiking companion and I came around a corner to see a large work party from the WTA, I grinned at them.

“We like you!” I said as they stepped aside to make room for us to walk by. “Thank you!”

They grinned back.

“You’re welcome,” one of the volunteers said, before calling down the trail to ask the other volunteers to make room.

While the trail is much improved from what it once was, there are still some rooty, slightly steep sections toward the end.

Bogaards said the WTA hopes to have the trail work finished as far as the junction with the Oyster Lily Trail by May. From there, it’s just a short way to Oyster Dome and the trail is rooty and rocky in many spots.

Bogaards said that around May, the WTA starts working at higher elevations as the snow melts out. But come next fall, he hopes to be back on the trail, re-routing the final section. It probably won’t be completely done until 2017 or 2018, he said.

The trail terminates at Oyster Dome, and it’s easy to see why so many people make this trip. It’s a wide rounded rock top that’s a perfect spot to stop for a picnic and a photo op.

We took our photos and admired the view, but then headed back down the trail. We’d examined the maps before heading out and decided to make a loop trip. We headed toward Lily Lake, which is a cozy spot, even on a dreary day. We enjoyed lunch while watching the water. Then we hiked down what’s called Max’s Shortcut, a trail that leads to the Samish Overlook. The view from the overlook is impressive, down to the edge of the Salish Sea and the wide, flat stretches of farm land.

While we were there, a group of hang gliders were getting their gear ready to soar down to the farmland below. I’ve always thought of hang-gliding as a bit crazy. But staring out at the view, I couldn’t deny it would be thrilling to soar above it like a hawk.

Once we headed back down the steep switchbacks to Chuckanut, we were at the bottom in no time. On our drive home we saw hang gliders circling down from the mountain, like hawks riding a thermal. I liked my hike, but I must admit, their way down the mountain had a lot more style.

Jessi Loerch: jloerch@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3046.

Logging possible in area of forest around Oyster Dome

Oyster Dome trail is the most popular trail on Blanchard Mountain in the 4,500-acre Blanchard State Forest. The forest is managed by DNR and is a trust, which means that money from timber sales support Skagit County services, including schools.

An agreement made about 10 years ago protected a core area, 1,600 acres, of forest around Oyster Dome from logging. At the time, the agreement required the Legislature to come up with funds to allow DNR to buy more timberland elsewhere in Skagit County. The plan was three-fold: a core area of Blanchard Mountain wouldn’t be logged; DNR would purchase other timberlands to prevent them being used for development; and then money would forever go to trusts from the logging lands DNR purchased.

The Legislature has never fully funded the agreement, however. The deadline was extended to mid-2017. This year, the Legislature hasn’t funded the remaining $7.7 million needed to stop logging in the core Blanchard area. That effectively means there is one more legislative session left before the agreement runs out.

DNR wants to see the agreement last, said Bob Redling, spokesperson for DNR. If the agreement doesn’t get funding, however, DNR is obliged to put timber up for auction to serve the trusts.

“Blanchard Forest is unique,” said Chase Gunnell, communications manager for Conservation Northwest, a key player in the original agreement. “It’s the only place in the Northwest where the Cascade Mountains meet the Salish Sea. … It has high-quality recreation and ecological benefits.”

Gunnell hopes that the Legislature will fund the agreement next session. He emphasized that the DNR doesn’t want to see this area logged, either.

“The DNR should be commended for their support of the agreement,” he said.

Get information at www.conservationnw.org.

If you go

Heading north on I-5, take exit 231. Follow Chuckanut Drive to just past milepost 10. Look for a school-bus stop sign. Parking is on the southbound side of the road on the shoulder. There’s a trail map a little way up the trail. If you’d like a shorter trip, start from Samish Overlook, where the hang gliders launch. To get there, take exit 240 from I-5 north. Head west on Lake Samish Road then turn left on Barrel Springs Road. After a half mile, turn right at a sign saying “Blanchard Hill Trail System” onto gravel road B1000. Turn left at B2000 and the sign for Samish Overlook. Follow the road to the trailhead.

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