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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Pend Oreille Park

by John Stuart

Its welcome welcome mat is always out and it could not be any more convenient for a short or long visit. Still, one of the jewels in Pend Oreille County's crown has not caught the eye of the many travelers who pass it every day. Over 70 years ago, when the logging of the original old-growth forests was in full swing in our area, a few people donated land near the south end of the county for a park. It was an effort to protect a small part of the original forest and today it remains very much alive and vibrant--and known as Pend Oreille Park.

The Park lies just adjacent to Highway 2 and at the foot of the break in the hills where the geological Okanogan Highlands drops about 500 feet in elevation to the rolling farm/forestland that is typical of the Elk/Chattaroy area. Spokane Lumber Company contributed 153 acres in 1927, and ten years later H.G. Klopp donated another 240 acres. This land was held by the State of Washington as a relatively undeveloped state park until 1982, when it and a few more acres acquired in the intervening years, was transferred to Pend Oreille County. The state's major stipulation was that any money generated within the park be spent only on the park.

At 440 acres, the park is great place to camp, hike or picnic and experience a close-to-native forest and all of its plants and animals. From north to south, the park extends about a mile. High elevations in the northern parts are home to mixed grass and ponderosa pine with rocky outcrops. At this time of year, warm sunshine on these exposed grassy areas is quietly coaxing our manycolored friends from the soil and their winter sleep. Glacier lilies, the dark purple larkspur, arrowleaf balsamroot are all emerging. Interspersed with these are signs of wintering elk and moose, especially around a small pond. In several other low spots are vernal pools that will hold water for only a couple months in the spring, but fostering their own particular forms of life, adapted to an impermanent water supply.

The road off Highway 2 enters the park in the very south. The picnic area and campground are both directly adjacent to this old blacktop which was originally part of Highway 2, when it went through the park many years ago. The southern third of the park is home to the old forest that is the crowning achievement of those who had the foresight to leave this land as a park 70 years ago. This legacy is a reminder to future generations of what a forest is capable of doing. And what Pend Oreille Park does is grow trees that are 300-400 years old. Interspersed among these old live trees loom large snags, big down trees and the beautiful disarray of bug-eaten, fungus soaked, disease-ridden organic matter that is the life blood and food source of a healthy forest. These areas hold the largest amount of standing trees per acre in the park. The forest plays a little joke on us by showing that the natural thinning process demands fungi and other agents of death and recycling to deal with all the large trees that die so that the remaining trees can continue their lives.

The lessons of an old forest are many. In Pend Oreille Park, we have a wonderful opportunity to relax, camp, hike, picnic and see up close the processes that make possible the forest that is our home

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