Hike of the Week for Friday, March 16, 2012
Wetland wandering on the Stillaguamish Floodplain
Article and photo by Craig Romano
The Portage Creek Wildlife Area invites you to wander across a vast floodplain.
Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks and Recreation
Contact: Snohomish Parks and Recreation Department: www1.co.snohomish.wa.us/Departments/Parks
Roundtrip: 2.0 miles
Elevation Gain: None
Access: From Everett follow I-5 north to Smokey Point Exit 206. Head east on SR 531. At first traffic light turn left (north) onto Smokey Point Blvd and proceed 1.0 mile turning right (east) onto 188th NE. In .7 mile bear left onto 47th Ave NE. In .4 mile bear right onto Cemetery Road and follow for .25 mile turning left into Portage Creek Wildlife Area.
Lying just outside the bustling commercial center of Smokey Point is a quiet little wildlife reserve that surprisingly few folks know about. Occupying 157 acres of prime Stillaguamish River Floodplain, find the Portage Creek Wildlife Area with its nature center and delightful kid-friendly trails. Once used for peat and dairy farming, Portage Creek became a park in 1995 after much of it had been restored to wetlands favoring wildlife.
Before beginning your explorations on the wildlife area’s trails, pay a visit to the old barn which now serves as an Interpretive Center. Here you’ll quickly learn about Portage Creek’s transformation from wetlands to farm back to wetlands. The wildlife area came to fruition thanks to the vision of Gene Ammon, the former owner and peat miner who began restoring this property in 1978 and subsequently donated it to the county.
Near the barn are a couple of small ponds that usually harbor a fair amount of waterfowl. Scope them for ducks. Then head out to explore the trails traversing the wide open fields making up the brunt of the property. From the main trailhead, walk north immediately coming to a junction. The trail straight makes a short loop around a marsh of golden grasses, swaying cattails, and songbird hiding reeds.
The trail left breaks out from a row of mature alders into open fields coming to Portage Creek within a 0.25 mile. The area is prone to flooding and you may have difficulty crossing this little waterway. If the creek permits, continue north across a wide expanse, all part of the floodplain of the Stillaguamish River. Admire the Cascade foothills off in the distance. Closer, look for beaver and otter sign. Watch for herons probing wetland pools and for hawks zeroing in on scurrying rodents.
Continue north to a junction. The trail left travels along the property’s periphery making a loop and returning to the main trail a 0.25 mile north. Take it. You’ll pass another trail that travels east to an alternative trailhead and parking off of 59th Ave. The property is quite pleasant if not a tad bit noisy being so close to a busy commercial center. Highway sounds buzz in the distance, and the Arlington Airport lies just to the south with its low flying aircraft approaching and departing adding more background noise. But in spring, hopefully most of the racket that’ll be vying for your attention will be from the nesting birds and amorous frogs of the wildlife area.
For information on lodging and other attractions near Portage Creek visit www.snohomish.org.