Getting Kids Out Into Nature

Mental Health Day at the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

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Twisty Cedar Snag

One of things that is hardest for me about parenting is the lack of time alone. Time to process, to think, to let all the other planning and thinking rest for awhile. I’ve learned over the years how important it is for me to get away by myself for some rejuvenation. I generally try to get out into nature for these times, because being outside is refreshing to my spirit. I was able to get out last Saturday for the day, and ended up exploring a new-to-me trail in Bellingham.

I didn’t have a clear plan when I left the house late Saturday morning. I had packed stuff for hiking, birding, and writing, and just wanted to head up north and decide from there what to do. I ended up getting off the freeway onto Highway 20 heading west, and drove up to Bayview State Park and West 90 on the Samish Flats to see what kinds of birds were out.

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Bayview SP Looking North – Not a Bird in Sight

I didn’t see a single bird at Bayview, and West 90 was quieter than it had been in January. There were lots of floaty birds on the flooded fields in the area, including swans (I can never decide if they are Tundra or Trumpeter swans…). But the short-eared owls were gone; all I saw were a female northern harrier and some red-winged blackbirds. There was a disemboweled and decapitated bird on the ground, which was kind of interesting. I didn’t see many eagles in the area, which was also a change from the past. I did see a European wigeon in amongst a flock of American wigeon in a field nearby.

I didn’t stay long, but looked in my writing notebook to see if there were trails I needed to check out that sounded good for the day. I settled on the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, and plugged it into the GPS. Half an hour later and I was pulling into the small parking area for this sweet hiking area. It was so warm in the sun I was down to my short-sleeved shirt, and quickly got my gear together for my walk. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get up and go when it’s just me and no kids! It was pleasant to walk into the shade of this mature forest and hear the sounds of traffic quickly fade away.

This natural area was owned for many years by the local Stimpson family, and was mostly left untouched. The land was donated in the early 2000s to the Whatcom Land Trust, and more land was added over the next few years to total 350 acres. It is a rare example of uncut lowland forest, and has many interesting old growth characteristics. Two ponds, wetlands, streams and rock outcroppings make this an interesting place to visit. The trails are well maintained and wind scenically through the giant trees.

I started hiking on the main trail, and quickly came to the first viewpoint out over a pond.

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Wetlands at Stimpson Family Reserve

Curiously, there was a man sitting there playing a mandolin, an interesting and peaceful juxtaposition to the croaks of frogs. The sounds of traffic quickly faded as I got deeper into the forest, and when I reached the Main Loop Trail, I turned left. Shortly after that I came to the junction for the Geneva Pond Loop Trail, a 1.2 mile diversion from the Main Loop.

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Trail Sign

Since I didn’t have the kids, I decided to take this loop and see if I could find a quiet, sunny place to sit and reflect. When I reached Geneva Pond, I took the right trail, which meanders along the north side of the pond.

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Geneva Pond

It was the sunnier bank, and I was able to find a spot to sit and look out over the water. There were brambles near the banks of the pond, and it didn’t seem like there were any good places for water play for children. But I enjoyed resting, eating my sandwich, and watching the buffleheads and wood ducks float and dabble on the dark water.

After my rest, I continued on the loop around the lake. I was startled by some sunning garter snakes (I’m sure I startled them more!).

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Sunning Snake

I saw some varied thrushes and some interesting mushrooms around the pond. Then I rejoined the Main Loop Trail and continued the rest of the way around. There is enough elevation gain in this section that you get a bit of a workout. I was thrilled to hear two barred owls hooting to each other in the trees, and ravens crawked to each other. I saw evidence of pileated woodpeckers, and eventually heard some, too. I even heard the sweet song of a brown creeper in the canopy. The large, thick-barked Douglas-fir trees tower over the forest floor, and big cedars dot the spaces between. Crumbling snags and downed logs provide nutrients and habitat to other forest creatures. Croaking frogs serenaded me the entire hike.

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Lush Ferns

The trail ended up by paralleling the long main pond back toward the parking area. Fresh stinging nettle shoots were coming up through the duff, and delicate native bleeding heart fronds made a leafy appearance.

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Fresh Nettles

I saw many families, young and old, and groups of friends enjoying this trail, yet I never felt crowded, and there was plenty of solitude even on a sunny spring day. I look forward to bringing my children here to see what else we can find along its gentle paths.

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Sweet Waterfall

I ended my day by stopping for coffee and writing at Woods Coffee on Lakeway Drive just before the entrance back onto I-5 in Bellingham. This local franchise has a neat vibe and comfy chairs, as well as good coffee. The day as a whole was refreshing to my spirit. I look forward to more times like this as the spring goes along.

If You Go: There are 4.4 miles of trails in this park. The Geneva Pond Loop would make a great hike for the smallest hikers, while the main loop has more elevation gain for longer or sturdier legs. As this is a nature reserve, dogs are not allowed. There are vault toilets at the parking lot, and you won’t need a parking permit to park. Get more information and an address from the Whatcom Land Trust website.

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