Sunday, January 24, 2016

Wanderings: Rasar State Park

As most of you may know after reading last week's Nature Nerd Wednesday post, my thirtieth birthday was last Wednesday the 20th. I took the day off work, and what else would a nature nerd do but spend the day in the great outdoors? But what was I to do? There were so many amazing options: do I go up to the mountains and tromp around among the snowy trees? Do I go visit my favorite place, Saint Edward State Park? Do I tackle a new hike? In the end, I decided to head north to see all of the bald eagles currently converging on the Skagit River to feed on the salmon runs. That seemed like a pretty cool way to spend my thirtieth birthday.

So my husband and I drove up north to Rasar State Park in Concrete, and like me, the park is also celebrating its thirtieth birthday this year! The land was donated to Washington State parks by the Rasar Family in 1986. I chose this park for our eagle-seeking adventures because it has a nice long trail that follows the Skagit River and should offer optimal views of the majestic eagles sitting in the trees along the riverbanks, swooping low over the water to scoop up a salmon, and gathering on the gravel bar to tear into their meals. It would be amazing.

Spoiler alert: we saw no eagles. Not a single one.

Despite this disappointing turn of events, the day was not lost. Far from it, in fact. Rasar State Park may be small and not well-known - I'd never heard of it - but it is a wonderful place to explore, with sweeping views of the Skagit River and misty Cascade foothills.

Upon arriving at the park, we followed the road all the way to the end, where it ended in the nearly-empty day-use parking area with a playground, covered picnic area, restrooms, and grassy lawn with picnic tables neatly arranged. We were surrounded by an intensely green, mossy forest of bigleaf maple, hemlock and cedar, still dripping from morning rain showers.

The most direct route to the river is via the paved ADA- accessible trail that leads from the day-use area through a large meadow directly to the sandy path of the River Trail. The Skagit River was running smooth, fast, and quiet, its water a murky gray-green with silt and mineral runoff from the not-so-distant Cascade Mountains. We stood at the water's edge and scanned the bare branches of the solid wall of bigleaf maples along the shoreline. Try as we might, we couldn't spot a single eagle.

We continued west down the River Trail and picked up the Skagit River Woods Trail, which we followed to the property line before turning around and going back the way we'd come. When hiking in the woods, one expects to be walking on a path of mud or humus, but here we were walking on a footing of firmly packed sand - evidence of just how far the river intrudes into the forest when it swells and floods beyond its banks. The river was in sight the entire time, but there were still no eagles to be seen, although we did hear one calling, tantalizingly just out of sight. Its voice was clearly audible in the hushed quiet of the forest, where the only other sounds were the dripping moss and quiet rippling of the river along the nearby shoreline.

After reaching the junction of the ADA Trail and the River Trail where we'd begun, we continued east along the other portion of the River Trail. At this point I accepted the fact that we'd missed the eagles, but was still eager to explore this unfamiliar State Park and discover what marvelous scenery it might hold. The rest of the River Trail was lovely, and offered multiple points of access to the riverbank, where we stood on the sandy shoreline and watched the water rush past us on its journey from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Upon reaching the end of the River Trail, we took the Field to River Trail (these trail names sure spell out clearly where they'll lead you!) to head back to the trailhead and parking area. We passed through a stand of alders with their bare winter branches stretching toward a serene gray sky. Little birds flew overhead, darting away too quickly for me to be able to identify them. The trail led us to a wide open meadow, with views of snow-dusted Sauk Mountain. I imagined this meadow would be a great place to camp out with a pair of binoculars for a day of birdwatching, but it was too chilly for that today.

Skirting the edge of the meadow, we made our way back to the paved ADA Trail and walked back through the dripping branches toward the still-empty day use area. Although we hadn't seen any eagles that day, I still thoroughly enjoyed my thirtieth birthday meandering through the forest, leaving footprints on the sandy riverbanks, and reveling in the fresh air and misty mountain views.

If you go... according to the information kiosk at Rasar State Park, the best time to see the bald eagles is November through February, before 11am each day. We arrived around noon on the day we visited, which clearly was just too late to witness the eagles' morning meal. If you want views of the river, this trail is probably best hiked during the winter months, when the trees are leafless and don't obstruct the view. Also remember to bring that Discover Pass, or be prepared to pay the $10 day-use fee.

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