Take A Tour of The Wild Sky Wilderness Proposal
Few cities in the world are as fortunate as Seattle to have truly
wild country literally within sight. Look east to the Cascades on any
clear day and a good part of what you will see is the proposed Wild Sky
Wilderness. This popular, but surprisingly little known region within
the Skykomish River valley, is home to lonely summits, quiet
lakes and meadows, and towering forests. Practically within shouting
distance of more than two million people, it is wild land that deserves
to be protected Wilderness. And the heart of this wild country is the
valley of the North Fork Skykomish River -- the "Wild Sky."
the small mountain town of Index, the North Fork Skykomish River valley
stretches north and east to the crest of the Cascades. From an
elevation of only 600 feet at Index, the terrain rises to over 7000
feet atop Columbia and Kyes peaks. In between are some of the most
extensive natural forests in the Cascades, and some of the best
remaining reaches of salmon spawning habitat near Puget Sound. The
waters of the North Fork Skykomish have a pleasing blue-green transparency to
them, and are home to healthy populations of fish.
The proposed Wild Sky Wilderness would permanently protect more than 106,000 acres of diverse landscapes, including the following.
Lower North Fork Skykomish Valley
The lower 15 or so miles of the North Fork were railroad logged in
the 1920s and 30s. These early operations were far different from the
scorched earth, leave-nothing-standing clearcut logging of recent
decades. Only the highest value trees were taken, cut by hand and
removed with horses and winches. These areas were then allowed to
regrow on their own. As a result, a diverse, naturally
regenerated forest has come back on its own. Other than the occasional
decaying, moss-covered stump, these forests appear quite natural, and
are well on their way to becoming old growth. There are many miles of
these forests along the North Fork Road, and from high vantage points
they form a continuous green blanket over the entire lower valley.
Unlike past Wilderness bills which tended to protect high elevation
meadows, rocks and ice, most of these lowland forests are included the
Wild Sky proposed Wilderness area.
These low elevation forests grow on some of the richest, most
productive lands in the entire National Forest system. All of the best
salmon spawning areas are at these lower elevations, surrounded by
natural second growth forests. With millions of acres of heavily logged
industrial timberland in western Washington, there is no need for more
logging here. Wilderness designation would end the threat of timber
sales, allowing these forests to continue their slow transformation to
true old growth, protecting crucial salmon spawning habitat.
Upper North Fork Skykomish Valley
As one moves further up the North Fork Skykomish, the land begins to
change. Rather than the sharp peaks, and fearsome brush and cliffs of
Eagle Rock, the terrain opens up bit and the mountains grow gentler.
Long ridges are topped by extensive flower meadows, and large areas of
old growth forest cloak much of the valley bottoms and slopes. This is
a friendly, inviting country, slightly drier than areas further west.
There are a number of popular trails, such as those up West Cady Ridge
and Scorpion Mountain. Certain areas lend themselves well to off-trail
wandering through open forests and meadows.
Most of the lower elevation forests were purposefully excluded from
the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness when it was designated in 1984. The
result is a wilderness boundary that is comprised of all kinds of
strange lines that follow no apparent topographic feature. But there
was method behind the seeming madness. Timber industry lobbyists with
aerial photos drew those lines which, with few exceptions, kept
commercially valuable forests well outside the Wilderness. Nearly two
decades later, we may have an opportunity to give these areas the
protection they didn't get in 1984.
The North Fork Valley supports significant old growth on slopes
north and south of the river and in the side valley of Troublesome
Creek. The upper valley of West Cady Creek has a very interesting and
unusual forest. Relatively open groves of large Douglas firs occur
nearly to the 4000-foot level, uncommonly high for the west side of the
Cascades. These forests offer easy wandering, and gradually merge with
still higher forests of silver fir and hemlock extending to the Cascade
crest. Further south, old growth forests grow on slopes above the Rapid
River and its north fork, and in the valleys of Meadow, Johnson and Kelly
creeks. Connecting ridges above these valleys offer some of the most
appealing ridgewalks in the Cascades, with miles of flowers.
Ragged RidgeDirectly north of Goldbar and Index, this is an area of high lakes
and ridges. From Arsenic Meadows to Northstar Mountain, one can wander
through some of the loneliest terrain in the Cascades, with downtown
Seattle in sight the whole time. Extensive middle elevation forests,
mostly western hemlock and silver fir, cover the hillsides, with scenic
parklands of mountain hemlock above.
Aside from a trail up to
spectacular Lake Isabelle - this is wilderness in the truest sense, a
great wild area on the map. It's a place that is in more scientific
terms, "core security habitat" for many kinds of wildlife.
Eagle Rock Roadless Area
Nicknamed 'Sky Peaks" by local activists, this is the roadless
country inside the Jack's Pass road loop, east and south of the lower
North Fork, west of Beckler Valley and north of Highway 2. It contains
some of the most rugged mountain terrain in the Skykomish area, with
sharp, jagged Gunn, Merchant and Baring peaks prominently visible from
Only one formal trail enters the area, to scenic and popular
Barclay Lake at the foot of the tremendous north wall of Mt. Baring.
The trail to Barclay and the immediate perimeter of the lake itself
have been drawn outside of the Wilderness boundary in order to allow
large groups to continue to camp in the area. However, an informal,
steeper trail winds up from Barclay Lake to scenic Eagle Lake. Both
that trail and Eagle Lake itself lie entirely within the proposed
This is a place of many diverse attractions. On its' southern edge,
some of the most impressive old growth forest in the Cascades grows on
low, south facing slopes just north of the village of Grotto. A large
area of Alaska cedar forest is found near Eagle Lake, and further
north, the valleys of Upper Trout and Howard creeks support extensive
virgin forest. Seldom visited lakes lie at the heads of most valleys,
offering outstanding fishing.
The central and northern reaches of the Eagle Rock area are a little
visited, mysterious region. Dense forests can make for slow traveling.
Summits such as Conglomerate Point and Spire Mountain likely see only a
few visitors in any year. Places like Bear Mountain and Upper Bear
Creek may go a decade or more without seeing any humans. If there is a
corner of the Cascades which a grizzly bear could call home this is