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Wandering through Whidbey Island woods
By KAREN SYKES
THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

It would take most hikers several visits to explore all the hiking trails on Whidbey Island. There are several well-known and popular destinations, such as Fort Casey and Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, but there are many "other trails" on the island that will be new to most hikers.

Hiker John Walenta pauses to ponder Waterman Rock, a huge glacial boulder in the Saratoga Woods Preserve on Whidbey Island. There is a growing network of trails near Langley including the Saratoga Woods Preserve and Goss Lake Woods. Many of these trails are on land managed by the Department or Natural Resources. Volunteers and organizations such as the Backcountry Horsemen have built and maintain many of these trails.

Though there is no significant elevation gain, these quiet forest paths offer many miles of hiking and opportunities to view wildlife.

The intricate network of trails can be confusing for a first-time visitor. Be prepared to explore -- or do some armchair research before setting out -- but don't worry about getting lost. All the trails eventually lead to a main road or thoroughfare. On a rainy day, Langley is close enough for lunch or a visit to the Langley Historical Museum, open weekends 1-4 p.m. (or by appointment). 

The weather was not in our favor for our visit, but we hiked to Waterman Rock, a glacial erratic nestled in a bed of salal and evergreens in the Saratoga Woods Preserve. 

The trail to Waterman Rock begins on Saratoga Road about 2 1/2 miles west from Langley. We found the trail head on the left-hand side of Saratoga Road, near a cluster of old buildings and a small gravel parking area. There are covered picnic tables and a porta potty at the site, a kiosk shows the trail system (trail maps are available at the trail head).
Click on map!

We began on the main trail from the trail head and hiked past the buildings, crossed a meadow and entered second-growth forest. Almost immediately we came to an unmarked three-way trail junction, but thanks to friends and fellow hikers Carl and Candy Berner of Renton, who had hiked there recently, we had directions. 
UPDATE: 06/24/06 
There are now trail markers and signs. 

We took the uphill trail to the right. The trail to the left is the half-mile Connector Trail that leads to the Goss Woods Trail system. With directions in hand, we turned left at the next junction and soon came to an old landing strip and logging debris. Here we turned right and walked a quarter-mile or so and discovered the sign for Waterman Rock lying beside the trail in the trees. The short trail to the rock is on the left side of the landing strip -- the rock is just a few steps away. 

This erratic chunk is impressive, with a cheerful topping of licorice ferns. Unless you are a climber, there is no way to get to the top and a sign warns hikers not to try. We pondered the long geologic journey the rock must have taken to end up in these quiet woods far from high mountains. Then we retraced our route back to the landing strip and explored another trail with a hand-lettered sign and a directional arrow saying "trail head."

The arrow pointed in the opposite direction from Saratoga Road, but we were curious and followed the trail as it wound through thickets of spunky salal and paralleled private property before making a sharp turn back to Saratoga Drive. We estimated we were about a half-mile from the trail head.

When we returned to the car, it was raining so hard that sheets of water were sliding across the road like panes of glass. We drove back to Langley to dry out a bit before venturing forth again. 

After a visit to the Langley Historical Museum, we returned to Saratoga Road and drove to the Goss Lake Woods Trail system with help from a free map we picked up at the museum.

You also can hike to Goss Lake Woods from the Saratoga Preserve. To do so, take the main trail at the Saratoga Woods Preserve trailhead and turn left on the obvious (unmarked) Connector Trail -- this trail crosses private land on an easement and connects to the trails in Goss Woods. 

If you are driving (from Langley), continue on Saratoga Road (past the Saratoga Preserve) until you come to Lone Lake Road, a few miles from Langley. Turn left onto Lone Lake Road and continue to Keller Road and turn left. You will see a multitude of unmarked paths on both sides of the road, but we continued until we came to a sign for the Edgewood Trail and parked along the road.

A short distance up the trail you'll come to a box with detailed maps of the trail system. Select from a vast array of trails, many with novel names such as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. These trails were built by volunteers and are open to non-motorized public use. They are in good condition and ideal for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. 

The trails in Goss Lake Woods are known mostly to locals, but visitors are encouraged. The Goss Lakes Woods Organization is a local group of hikers, cyclists and equestrians, naturalists and citizens not affiliated with any government agency or political party. In addition to building and maintaining trails, they publish a newsletter about conservation and legislative matters pertaining to the trails.

Their latest newsletter also describes how challenging winter conditions are for raptors that live on the island. In winter, male eagles fight over females and territory, but winter is even more rigorous for red-tailed hawks. During winter, their prey base of small mammals shrinks and only the most capable birds survive. According to wildlife biologists, only a small percentage of raptors live to their first molt later in summer.

The forest consists of second-growth Douglas fir, western hemlock, western white pine, wild rhododendrons and huckleberry. These woodlands are home to several residents, including pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, great horned owls, hawks, black-tailed deer, chipmunks and flying squirrels.

Though the 600-acre state forest has been logged in the past, locals have kept chain saws at bay through legislation, petitions and letter-writing campaigns. So far their efforts have succeeded, but in 2001 they learned that through a political maneuver the Legislature removed the Goss Lake tract from the Trust Land Transfer Program list. Another letter-writing campaign spared the woods again and as of this writing they have received assurance from local representatives that logging will not take place until these issues are resolved. In the meantime, more trails are planned.

Heavy precipitation prevented us from hiking more of the trails, but we were enchanted by those we did hike. Enjoy the trails and be sure to visit the Goss Lake Woods Web site to learn how you can help preserve these trails for generations to come.
 

IF YOU GO:
Getting there: Drive state Route 520 via Deception Pass or take the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton. To drive onto the island, take Interstate 5 north from Seattle and take Exit 230 (north of Mount Vernon) and turn left (south) in about 12 miles to Deception Pass State Park; follow the signs to Langley. If you take the ferry, drive state Route 525 three miles from Clinton to the Langley turn-off (at the stoplight) and turn right onto Langley Road. Continue to Langley and at the western edge of town find Saratoga Road. Follow Saratoga Road for 2.4 miles to the Saratoga Woods Preserve; it will be on your left.

Trail data:
Saratoga Woods Preserve to Waterman Rock (round trip) is about two miles, no significant elevation gain. You can hike a short distance or up to several miles. Total mileage will vary -- there are several miles of developed trails and more are planned. Motorized vehicles are not allowed.

Information: Visit the Web site for Goss Lake Woods at http://www.gosslakewoods.org/. The site provides more information on the trails, a map and how you can help preserve these lands. For information on hiking trails on Whidbey Island, refer to "Hiking the San Juan Islands" by Ken Wilcox (Northwest Wild Books, 223 pages.
Don't forget to bring your dog along, they love it here. Don't forget Rovers Leash!

Click on the picture below to see the BIG picture!

 
Below-Sign for the trail head to Goss Lake/AKA Edgewood hiking & biking trails
 

To locate the trail head. Follow Saratoga road a few miles North beyond Saratoga Woods Preserve.
Turn left on Lone Lake Road, follow lone lake Rd. for a few more miles. Look for Keller Road, turn left on Keller road. Watch closely on the left for the trail head sign.
Have fun!

What to do if you lose your way while hiking. 
If you do get turned around and believe you're lost, rest assured you will find your way back out. 
It's nearly impossible to get totally lost here.

First off, DON'T PANIC, STAY ON THE TRAILS!
Make a guess on what trail and direction you believe is the way back to the trail head from where you started your hike. Keep walking on that trial in that same general direction. DO NOT change trails or change your general direction. Just keep going, eventually you will find your way out. All trials lead to a road or highway. NEVER change your mind on what direction you first believed you should go. That could lead to alot of unnecessary hiking, exhaustion, fear and confusion. Make a guess and stick to it! I doubt it would take anyone more then an hour or so to hike out from any of these areas. That's if you take our advice and stay on the trails. If you get off the trials then you could find yourself in some trouble. The woods and thickets here can be very difficult to maneuver around in. You could end up walking around in circles for a very long time. Staying on the trails is the KEY!

  • #1 Always tell someone where you are going 
  • #2 DON'T PANIC 
  • #3 STAY ON THE TRAILS, NEVER leave the trails! 
  • #4 STICK TO ONE GENERAL DIRECTION 
  • #5 Just in case, bring a cell phone!


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