Cypress Mainline Trail

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Review

Hikers, beginning their wanderings on Cypress Island by way of the Mainline Trail, will find that it reflects its past uses as a logging, mining, and development road. The mainline, is one of the last roads on Cypress not fully abandoned. Its rare use by vehicles is restricted to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for habitat recovery projects and emergencies. Buried beneath its hard packed gravel is the former pioneer wagon road which followed even earlier Native American footpaths that once laced the island’s interior. While most of the pre-contact uses of the island were related to seasonal subsistence villages located along the shore, the island’s interior was also appreciated. Not only did the uplands provide wild fruits and game but special locations within the island were highly regarded as sacred places of spiritual cleansing and renewal.

Climbing moderately, the trail quickly leaves the saltwater shore and passes through an area of dense young trees that have sprouted where intensive logging had taken place. Passing a DNR maintenance facility at the Reed Lake junction the trail continues to climb toward a pass situated between and below the island’s two main highpoints each at about 1500 feet of elevation above sea level. Various trail junctions and potential loops split off to the left and right. Some lead hikers on short one-way passages deeper into the natural areas. Cypress Lake, one of these, has the highest level of protection, excluding dogs even on leashes in order to protect sensitive ecosystems that struggle to survive in an isolated basin.

The Mainline soon passes over this mountain saddle and begins its long traverse down along the western slope of Cypress Island. Few distant views are to be had as the trail passes through forests of various ages, all established in past clear cuts and selectively logged areas. Today many large trees can be found and the views down into the forest from the trail reveal a pattern of steep slopes and flat terraces. Much of the forest understory is suppressed by the dark canopy giving unexpectedly open views within the forest.

As the trail descends and leads further south the olivine and serpentine deposits that dominate the bedrock and soils on this part of the island become more evident. One plant, specially adapted to the demands of serpentine soils, is the beautifully named pod fern called "Indian’s Dream." Near this plant, which can be found along the sunny dry rocky road cuts, as many as three other species of ferns can also be found. Each one of these species situated in a slightly different microclimate of soil, water, and sun exposure.

With a final sweep left, to the east, the mainline passes through a wide clearing not far from its three-way junction with the Reef Point and South Shore Trail. It’s worth stopping at this clearing. At one time it was a farm and sheep ranch. The dense forest surrounding it would have then been logged and the small patch of grass you now stand in would have spread expansively across the entire south slope all the way down to Reef Point. The farm remnants are most likely buried under the bulldozed clearing but around the edges of it relics of the past logging activities can be found in the form of building ruins, discarded machinery and several "dumps" of logs that for some reason never made it to the mill.

The abandoned road structure of the mainline trail provides a relatively deep opening in the forest canopy and in some sections allows an extensive shrub border to develop. This provides for some wonderful year-round birding opportunities. Varied thrushes in winter and fall, winter wrens, flycatchers, and the industrious pine siskins are a few examples. The stony tread may not provide many opportunities for observing animal tracks but you can be sure that deer make frequent use of this trail and if you are unusually quiet in your hiking there’s a chance you’ll surprise a few when rounding a sharp curve in the trail. Despite a seasonal hunting season, the deer can seem unusually inquisitive about your presence. With so few contacts with people and their pets, don’t be surprised if they don’t run away at first. In fact, they may give you as much a look as you give them.

While the open and somewhat industrial look of the Cypress Mainline is not as attractive to hikers as the dedicated hiking trails on the island, it does offer efficient travel between various locations and makes possible a number of interesting loops. Seldom crowded, the Cypress Mainline Trail can provide quiet hiking in a habitat dedicated to the natural experience. It’s easy to understand why early visitors felt a spiritual benefit from their time on Cypress Island. Maybe you will too.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 3/9/2010

Directions

The Cypress Mainline Trail begins at Eagle Harbor on the eastern shore of Cypress Island. Passing through the middle of Cypress Island it provides numerous junctions with side trails before terminating near the south end of the island in a three-way junction with the Reef Point and South Shore Trails. Only hiking is allowed on the trail; bicycles and stock animals are prohibited on Cypress Island due to its preserve status.

Map

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