Mountain airstrip gets cleanup help

Ranger Creek Campground isn’t like other campgrounds typically found in the Mount Baker National Forest. This unique campground is established around a historic airfield that stretches more than a mile down the length of the White River valley along state Route 410. This runway is still active and offers an adventurous means to enter the national forest and the beautiful surroundings. Any pilot brave enough to navigate the steep valley walls and unexpected downdrafts that flow through the mountainous landscape will find a welcoming destination to visit.

Because of this unique feature and its accessibility, Ranger Creek Campground is host to hundreds of campers and visitors each year. The high volume of traffic through the years has created several problems in the area; most notably, the introduction of non-native, invasive plants like Scotch broom, oxeye daisy and spotted knapweed.

Consequently, an Oct. 16 work project at Ranger Creek Campground focused efforts on continuing the battle to eliminate non-native, invasive plants from the area. The army of volunteers who arrived to help on the project did so in exceptional style. While most volunteers arrive in cars, trucks or buses, these volunteers arrived by plane and on horseback. They were members of the Washington Pilots Association and the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington’s Enumclaw chapter. Their work party concentrated on applying seed and straw to bare soil areas in a five-acre pasture surrounding the front of the airfield. The bare soil areas are the remnants of past work completed in removing invasive weeds from the pasture.

After a frosty-morning introduction by the U.S. Forest Service Invasive Weed Specialist Sarah Prince, volunteers were divided into two groups, starting their work at the ends of the pasture and working toward each other. Seed was applied to help replant the bare earth and straw was used as a mulch to hold moisture and heat on the ground to promote growth. Bales of straw were carried by hand and placed along the length of the pasture, waiting to be untied and selectively scattered. The twine which wrapped the bales was twisted in colors of purple and yellow. These colors indicate the straw had been certified as weed-free. Throughout the morning, volunteers carefully removed any invasive weeds, which were disposed of in an appropriate manner.

As the last of the seed was dispersed and the straw placed throughout the pasture, volunteers congregated to look back upon their work of fresh-layered gold straw. They knew their work would have a profound influence on the goal of ultimately eliminating invasive weeds from Ranger Creek. Before long, winter will cover the pasture in a snowy blanket that will only break with the heat of spring – and where once there was just barren earth, a new layer of foliage will spring up to pave the way for native plants to revive the landscape.

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