Low-risk offenders schlep through Mason County mud – all for the sake of kids in nature

A  new boardwalk over the wetlands at Cranberry Lake.
A new boardwalk over the wetlands at Cranberry Lake.

Building off of what was once an Eagle Scout trail built in the 1970s, a crew from the Cedar Creek Correctional Center was asked to continue to build the trail along Cranberry Lake in Mason County. After being contacted by the Mason County Conservation District, the crew started the trail work in July 2013.

This area is a diverse forest that gives students opportunity to explore native plants and wildlife, as well as learn about forest management. Wetland trails, including a new boardwalk, give students an up-close view of an active beaver dam and other animals and flora native to wetlands. Plus, Cranberry Lake streams afford students the opportunity to examine and research the biodiversity of healthy aquatic systems and riparian communities.

Trail work is no easy task in a wetland area. As the rain poured, the crew worked diligently for weeks in the gushy mud while their boots were sinking into the muck.

Cedar Creek Correctional Center

The Cedar Creek Correctional Center provides community service crews that perform thousands of hours of work each year for local, county, non-profit and state agencies. They collaborate with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to provide work crews, under DNR’s supervision, that maintain trails and surrounding campgrounds in the Capital Forest. They also plant trees and fight forest fires. A part of the mission at Cedar Creek is to engage staff members and offenders in sustainability efforts.

Why Cranberry Lake? 


This is the old pathway/boardwalk over Cranberry Lake wetlands.
This is the old pathway/boardwalk over Cranberry Lake wetlands.

Longtime residents of Mason County, Ken and Kitty Frank envisioned this area as an ideal place for students to engage in research and learn about forest and wildlife management. In December 1993, they established a foundation, and in 1996, donated Cranberry Lake property for their vision. Unfortunately, Ken and Kitty passed away in 2004.

The Cranberry Lake Education and Research Center was created out of the Foundation and is located on a square mile of natural forest with streams and wetlands surrounding the lake. The Center is continuing to develop new facilities and educational resources to support student learning while maintaining the pristine nature of the area. Currently, the Center has water, toilet facilities, and bus parking available. Also, a new learning center will be available for educational use. Soon, the trail and boardwalk should be completed and open for kids to start researching and learning about the forest.

Check out the Cranberry Lake Educational and Research Center website at www.cranberry-lake.com. Educational groups interested in visiting the Center can contact Stella Feeley at sfeeley@southsideschool.org for more information or to schedule a field trip.

Statewide, there are five correctional camps that provide hard-working, motivated crews for public projects. If you are a local, county, non-profit or state agency who is interested in hiring a work crew to help with your community project, contact Mark Hayes, Correctional Camps Program Manager, at 360-902-1046 or mark.hayes@dnr.wa.gov.

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