Airfield Forest and Trail

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A hike to the Airfield Forest on Cypress Island allows visitors to examine the reclamation efforts of restoring the site of a former airstrip back to a semblance of its natural forested state. In addition, the location serves as a junction of a number of interesting trails crossing near the center of the island. The airfield was originally constructed for a large development project formerly planned for Cypress Island. Never more than a narrow flat strip of gravel surrounded by growing forest, it was known primarily to local recreational flyers. Here they could practice touch and go’s under the sometimes challenging conditions of island wind and weather in addition to the rough landing surface. Now, with the majority of the island managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources as a Natural Resources Conservation Area the focus is on preservation of the island’s natural ecology and access for low impact recreational activities.

The challenge of reforestation at this site was twofold. First the soil had to be amended to rebuild some of its former fertility and secondly a seed stock genetically consistent with the trees native to Cypress Island had to be obtained. To accomplish this, small quantities of compost from the island’s modern composting campground toilets were used as a soil amendment along with machine digging of the hardened airfield substrate. Making the project even more difficult were the naturally occurring serpentine soils particularly on this part of Cypress. The nutritional difficulties of plants growing in serpentine soil made the selection of genetically adapted seed stocks even more important than usual. To insure the viability of seedlings, seeds of native forest species of Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock were collected specifically from Cypress Island trees. These were taken to mainland nursery facilities to be propagated. In anticipation of their difficult planting site the seedlings were grown for twice the normal duration and set in special "plugs" which provided the roots with more protection than normally required. When ready, the young trees were brought to Cypress and planted across the airfield surface, purposely mixing the tree species in order to promote the regeneration of a natural forest. Initially, special netting and care was provided but it is hoped that in the long term, natural self sustaining conditions will develop eventually allowing this site to become a more natural setting.

The Airfield Forest is located east of the Cypress Mainline at the end of the old Airfield Road. Along this former road are located the two trailheads for the interesting Bradberry Loop. Upon reaching the west side of the Airfield forest, a small heliport, actually only a grassy clearing, is visible. This landing site is maintained exclusively for emergency services such as fire fighting. Walking through the Airfield Forest to the east, the trailhead for the Airfield Trail can be found. Diving quickly into the older forest the trail wanders downhill for a third of a mile following old roadways and trail. It ends at the junction with two other trails both of which continue downhill but in different directions. The trail to the left or north continues down and ends at Reed Lake a short distance from the Cypress Mainline, about a mile from Eagle Harbor. To the right or east, the Cypress Head Trail heads one-way down to the beach and seasonal campground at Cypress Head.

While the Airfield Forest is currently one of the least natural looking sites on the island, its location at trail junctions and the opportunity to see an unusual forest reclamation project make a short visit a worthwhile experience.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 4/6/2010

Directions

The Airfield Forest of Cypress Island is located on the island’s eastern slope about midway between the Cypress Mainline and Cypress Head. Access the forest from a number of trails including: Cypress Head, Reed Lake, and the Cypress Mainline.

Map

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