Evergreen’s Living Laboratory
By Tari Gunstone
Also known as Evergreen’s “living laboratory,” the 700 acres of undeveloped forest and 3,000 feet of beach our school offers is right on the doorstep of campus. If you are new and haven’t had the chance to explore yet, you will soon discover the winding trails of this green gem.
Walk through curtains of drooping cedars, some with such distinct branch formations they look fairy-tale book appropriate. Cross rustic bridges over a trickling stream or file along a wood plank pathway winding through a muddier part of the forest. Groves of tall alder trees form a dappled light canopy with their delicate, oval leaves. Towering Big-Leaf Maples carpeted with green moss provide promise for a spectacular Fall color show in the coming months. Wade through knee-high ferns and watch for small white berries on the Snowberry shrubs that pop up as we near Winter. Medicinal plants such as Oregon Grape and Solomon’s Seal dot the forest floor. Spring treats like Salmonberry and Trillium flowers await the plant-lovers out there. Observe Blue herons and gulls pecking for food along the shoreline and don’t be surprised to come across a deer or two.
If you have the time, let yourself get lost a little bit, but don’t expect to take a quick break in the woods in between classes until you become acquainted with the many routes available. The main artery to the beach from F lot is about a 20-30 minute walk one way if you don’t take any side trails. Sign posts with maps and vegetation descriptions are posted at trailheads and a variety of maps are posted on the Evergreen website.
Evergreen’s Conservation Corp has done tremendous work on maintaining the trails for student use as well as the greater Olympia community. A recent addition is the GPS-based route marking system on the F lot trail that helps keep you from getting lost. Keep an eye out for posts with a green, numbered sign adorned with the Geoduck mascot to keep you on track. The signs are conveniently reflective to help guide you after dark.
Matt Lebens from Evergreen’s Environmental Health and Safety department informed me that this section section of trail serves as the pilot that will eventually grow to a GPS marking system for the entirety of Evergreen’s trails including the path to the Organic Farm. “We wanted to initiate a system consistent with US Forest Service standards. The hope being that users will be, at a minimum, semi-cognizant of the system’s function and purpose,” stated Lebens.
Officers from Evergreen Police Services first officially proposed the emergency response initiative in June of 2015. “A significant driver of this process had been the desire of local response units (such as Fire, Medical, and Law Enforcement) to arrive better equipped in responding to a variety of emergency conditions. Injured user, assault, wildfire, missing person, etc.,” says Lebens. Users can use the numbers on the trail markers to keep track of where they are should an emergency need to be reported.
If you are interested in learning more about the Conservation Corp’s work or volunteering your time to keep the forests beautiful, join one of their meetings on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. in Seminar II C3107 or follow their updates on Facebook. You may also be interested in forming a closer attachment to our beloved mascot, the geoduck, by participating in weekend work parties with Evergreen’s Shellfish Club. Get more info by attending their Monday meetings at 5 p.m. in CAB 313 at the Big wood Table or check them out on Facebook. Want to get out on that water? Lucky for you, the Outdoor Program offers kayaks for rent ($10 for 4 hours) at the Costantino Recreation Center.
Orientation week provided a glow-stick hike at night for new students as well as a contemplative walk in the Shinrin-yoku method of meditative forest-breathing. The Outdoor Program hosted a hike highlighting plant ecology and the principles of “leave no trace.” One of DisOrientation Week’s activities put on by the Black Cottonwood Collective was a woods walk/plant talk.
If you missed these, it’s not too late to impress all your new hippie friends with some plant identification skills. Pick up a good mushroom field guide (I suggest All That the Rain Promises and More: a Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by Arora) and a plant field guide such as Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon. It is said that the best mushroom years are the ones where everyone complains about summer ending too quickly, in other words, this year. Enjoy the mushrooms and plants of the forest by taking pictures rather than physical samples to document your findings.
Unfortunately, there have been reports of theft and assault in the Evergreen forest, so while you’re encouraged to explore, it’s important to be careful. Especially when you’re a new student and don’t know your way around, it’s best to stay alert and hike with a friend or two. If you are jonesin’ for some serious alone time in the woods, tell a friend where you are going in the and when you plan on being back. Don’t bring valuables with you, and think about carrying pepper spray. Reduce your risk of getting lost, hurt, or harmed by avoiding hiking at dusk or dawn and always bringing a headlamp or flashlight with you just in case.
Keep in mind as well, that although the forest is in the backyard of Evergreen housing, it should not be treated with the comfort of your own home. The school enforces no alcohol or drug use, including smoking cigarettes, policy. The administration also bans fires, weapons, vandalism, camping, and nudity. You can bring your furry friends but put them on a leash and definitely pick up their poo, nobody wants to step on that.
In a brief conversation with George Bridges, he informed me that one of his priorities as president is to make better use of Evergreen’s forested land for education. New additions to make the forest more accessible as a resource for faculty and teachers are on the horizon. For now, Evergreen still remains a living, breathing, laboratory for those who utilize it. We are lucky to have such a wild place to explore and marvel at the lack of human toxicity. Use the forest as a tool to help you learn new things and a place to “vanish at least a dozen times into something better,” as the poet Mary Oliver said. However you decide to spend your time here, please be conscientious of the critters and plants who depend on this land for survival.