News

Storm devastates the demo forest

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

The Washington State University Demonstration Forest has closed due to the danger of leaning and fallen trees caused by the Feb. 17 windstorm. Officials are uncertain when the forest may reopen.

The forest comprises nearly 150 acres located south of state Route 410 behind Albertsons and extending to 214th Avenue East behind Safeway.

Vicky McCarley, challenge course program coordinator, said forest manager Don Hanley counted about 150 leaning trees and 170 downed trees.

“All programs are suspended and access to the site is closed until we are able to restore safety,” McCarley said. “We hope to be able to open again as soon as possible, but at this time we have no time frame.”

According to Pat BoyEf, from WSU's 4-H youth development, Hanley has been overseeing the forest's management for the last 25 years and this storm caused much more devastation than he anticipated.

“We are tremendously concerned about safety,” BoyEf said. “We are still seeing winds and there are trees standing that are exposed that have never been exposed before.”

McCarley worked late into the night Feb. 24 posting signs around the area explaining the closure and danger.

“We are asking people to respect the signs and not walk through the forest,” McCarley said. “As soon as we're done with the cleanup we will let people know. There will be a public announcement. I wish I knew how long, but I don't.”

The morning the storm hit, McCarley had a group of Sumner High School students in the forest for an educational program, about 16 including staff.

As the winds increased to more than 60 mph, McCarley and her staff began an evacuation.

“Things were not sounding right,” McCarley said. “But the kids managed themselves very well and no one was hurt.”

As the group was preparing to leave, a tree came down in the parking lot blocking the road. One of the parents who happened to come to the site as the storm hit, had a chain saw. He cut the log, allowing the group to escape.

However, McCarley stayed behind, trying to pack out the group's food. Another tree fell, blocking her escape again from the parking lot, but she was able to drive out on a back route to safety.

“It was the first time I have been uncomfortable in the forest,” McCarley said. “It was definitely not a safe place.”

BoyEf said the forest has been thinned twice before, most recently after the ice storm in 1996.

According to McCarley, the reason so many trees went down this time is because the wind came from the northeast. Strong winds in Bonney Lake often come from the southwest.

“Trees develop strength on natural wind patterns,” McCarley said. “The trees weren't used to being hit by strong winds coming from that side and a lot of trees came down.”

BoyEf said “multiple entities,” including Bonney Lake and Pierce County, will be involved in cutting the leaning trees down, clearing the falling trees and thinning the forest if needed.

The forest has been a controversial subject in the area because Quadrant, a property development subsidiary of the Weyerhaeuser Company, submitted a rezone request last year and plans to build a housing development on the property.

The property is currently zoned “public facility” and Quadrant is seeking a zone change to commercial, residential and public facility.

The forest was deeded to WSU by Weyerhaeuser in 1941 and has been used for educational purposes including the 4-H challenge program. In 2004 the university decided to allow the land to revert back to Weyerhaeuser; that transfer is not complete and WSU continues to manage the forest.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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