Turning Wheel “Bridges” Recreation, Timber Harvest and Environmental Opportunities

If you care for the environment, love to spend time outdoors and like to see thriving local communities, you may just be surprised by how much you might appreciate an upcoming timber sale.

When Public Lands Commissioner Hilary S. Franz speaks to an audience, she shares her vision for how Washington’s public lands can become incredible assets able to simultaneously support economies, the environment and our quality of life. That vision is reality in the Reiter Foothills outside of Gold Bar, Wash.

Timber harvests on state trust lands, or any forestlands for that matter, meet modern requirements to protect streams and fish habitat. Rather than allowing equipment, vehicles or logging trucks to drive through a creek, for example, logging companies install bridges to minimize any risk of damage.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources, which Commissioner Franz manages, does the same for new recreation trails on state trust lands. Where you might have formerly ridden an off-road vehicle (ORV) or mountain bike through a creek, trail planners know this can send sediment downstream, damage streamside habitat or disturb creek beds.

Bridges, constructed to today’s standards, are better for fish and water quality. That’s important given that 80 percent of our drinking water comes from Washington forests.

Reiter Foothills and Timber Harvests

The forest products derived from Reiter Foothills Forest are an important contributor to local public services, the economies of small surrounding communities, statewide public services and Washington’s statewide economy.

The revenue created by timber harvests helps fund classroom construction for public school K-12 students across Washington. It also helps funds local schools, counties, and other local services, such as libraries, hospitals, road maintenance, emergency medical services and fire districts.

Washington’s forest products industry employs some 105,000 workers and annually generates nearly $5 billion in wages, many in rural communities such as those lining Hwy 2 near Reiter Foothills.

In addition to forest products, Commissioner Franz recognizes that state forests are capable of creating economic opportunities beyond sustainable timber sales alone. The state forests she oversees, including Reiter Foothills State Forest, can drive rural economic growth through a variety of way, including recreation.

The southern half of Reiter Foothills Forest offers some of the state’s most valued ORV trail networks. The foresters who work here understand the importance of recreation. As they moved a 112-acre timber harvest forward in the portion of the forest designated for future ORV recreation, they recognized that the sale offered opportunities that go past the $2 million that it would generate for public services. Fittingly, foresters are calling the harvest “Turning Wheel.”

Reiter Foothills and Recreation

The 2010 Reiter Foothills Forest Recreation Plan calls for continued development of thoughtfully designed trails, guided ongoing user input and careful environmental review. To minimize the potential for conflict, motorized trails lie within in one-half of the 10,000-acre forest, with non-motorized recreation trails within the other.

The Turning Wheel Timber Harvest

Not long into the Turning Wheel timber harvest planning process foresters recognized that a bridge would benefit the loggers by providing a shorter haul route, while protecting a fish-bearing stream and providing an opportunity for better recreation access.TurningWheelBridge

Turning Wheel 118
Amy Halgren, DNR District Road Engineer, and associate Elyse Fleenor inspect Turning Wheel bridge during project construction.

The pictured bridge was installed last summer. Like most bridges built today it will allow fish to swim upstream and downstream freely. More notable, is that the bridge is permanent.

Normally, a harvest like this would have constructed a temporary bridge and removed it once the harvest was over. Instead, DNR’s recreation program provided the incremental funding needed to upgrade the bridge into a permanent structure. Otherwise, the recreation program would have had to construct the ORV trail access bridge on its own. By piggybacking on the timber harvest, the recreation program will save about $200,000, staff time and permitting fees.

As this timber harvest wraps up, likely next summer, loggers will leave behind two more things the recreation program covets. The first is a large, flat area of cleared land that will, once improved, host a trailhead and parking for up to 100 visitor vehicles. The site is being reused after a previous timber sale.

The second, are roads that will function as future trails. These future trails will help offset the removal of existing, unsanctioned trails and culverts. A short section of user-built trails and culverts in the area are remnants of a bygone era — they don’t meet the environmental standards required by the agency today. Loggers will remove the culverts and restore more natural water flows to this part of the forest. The future roadbeds will transition into more miles of sustainable ORV trails. One of those trails will serve as an access trail for the ORV community so they can avoid having to use the main road, which should also improve overall safety.

The trail and parking improvements that are expected to result from the Turning Wheel timber harvest are dependent upon capital improvement funds. As the legislature makes funding available for recreation in the future, staff will be able to propose projects that build off the timber harvest infrastructure, which has the benefit of already aligning with modern environmental considerations. The incremental investment is sure to provide big bang for the buck.

Managing forests for revenue-generating activities also allows the department to pay for the wildfire suppression, law enforcement and road maintenance services necessary for continued public access.

In exchange for all that recreationists get from such harvest-driven opportunities, visitors to Reiter Foothills should also prepare for a few inconveniences.

  • As the Turning Wheel timber harvest begins, likely over a 4-to-6-month period this spring or summer, visitors should expect large trucks and equipment on the Deer Flats Mainline Road.
  • Area timber harvests may require trail and bridge closures from time-to-time as other harvests move forward and another harvest can be expected in the Turning Wheel area in 40-60 years.
  • DNR will replant the timber harvest area, yet the new new trails will traverse through younger, rather stubby, forests during the first few years it takes for the trees to grow.

Follow the agency on Facebook, Twitter, or sign up for recreation e-newsletters to stay informed on timber harvest activities and adjust your recreation plans accordingly. To participate in recreation stakeholder meetings for state forest lands near you, contact your local region office for dates, times and locations.

State Forests and Providing for Multiple Public Benefits

Under the direction of Public Lands Commissioner Hilary S. Franz, state trust lands staff are creating metaphorical and literal bridges between timber harvest, environmental, and recreation interests. (Read about the Pathfinder and Carrol Flats timber sales.)

With thoughtful management of timber harvests, a focus on environmental considerations and pursuit of recreation opportunities, the Department of Natural Resources is ensuring that Reiter Foothills trails grow and visitors from across the region and state continue to seek out and visit this destination and surrounding communities.