Rocking the old growth

Trailside participants
Sometimes we think in order to see new things that we need to travel to the furthest reaches of our earth.
I was reminded of how wrong this train of thought is last Saturday as I traveled 40 minutes downriver to Rockport State Park. Rockport is a small place, blink while driving across Highway 20 East to the Cascades and you might well miss it. However, being small and little known should not suggest that this State Park has nothing to offer. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a more easily accessible example of old growth forest anywhere in the Cascades.

Old GrowthThat which we do not speak of makes its presence known

Adam Lorio, an alumni of the North Cascades Institute graduate program and current park interpreter at Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island, invited Brandi and I to spend Saturday, January 9th, volunteering at the park for a deep forest ecology event that offered free crafts, popcorn, and naturalist-led hikes. We estimate around 200 people attended the event – a great turnout, considering Rockport is located on a dead-end road November through April as Highway 20 closes for the winter 35 miles upriver.
The main objective of the event is to raise interest in the park since it decided to close its campground due to hazards involved with sleeping near 300-foot tall, 600 year old trees. As succession advances, half-millennia old Douglas firs tend to succumb to mother nature’s rigorous conditioning. Blow-downs, as well as root and stem rot, create hazards that can be unpredictable and unnecessary for sleeping campers.  The park, however, is open for day hiking and offers some spectacular sights.

Adam LorioWashington State Park Interpretive Ranger Adam Lorio with participants
Paul with kidsCraft time and snacks
Large Douglas FirsA glimpse deep into the old growth forest of Rockport State Park

The park service has a jewel in Rockport that should not be missed. The Rockport State Park Deep Forest Experience, which is free, will be offered on Saturday, January 16th, 23rd, and 30th from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Come on out, makes some crafts, see some trees, and do some eagle watching while you are at it.

Photos courtesy of Brandi Stewart.


  1. Leslie Franzen

    Nice job Paul & Brandi – glad you got to experience this place – we used to camp there when the kids were little and while I am sad it is closed for camping, it is good to see others exploring it for new reasons. Doing an event there is a great idea to bring more attention to it.

  2. Christian

    What is the mathematical chance of an old-growth tree falling on top of a sleeping camper? Is it less or greater than being hit by lighting, attacked by a black bear, trampled by an elk herd, spraining your ankle in the shower? Seems like a ridiculous reason to close the campground to me. Is there *any* documented case of a camper crushed by a falling tree elsewhere in the NW?
    Its exciting to see NCI grad program alumni collaborating with the current cohort — nice work!

    1. Brandon baugh

      One less thing that’s gonna kill ya? Makes sense to me I mean it’s still there..animals are still enjoying it..?

  3. Betsy

    Sadly, while I worked at Lake Wenatchee State Park, a woman was killed by a falling tree. It may have had something to do with the closing of Rockport to camping, I don’t know for certain. The cause was slightly different, though–it was due to too many years of fire suppression making the ponderosa forest unhealthy, choked and unstable.

  4. Micah

    They may have decided to close it so that vandals don’t decimate some of the last stand of giant fir in Skagit county. Some of the tallest trees in North America once grew in Skagit CO, 100 years ago. Fallen fir trees occasionally measured as big as 320 to 350 feet long, 8 to 16 feet diameter. Stories of 400 footers exist in some counties of Washington, so big 80,000 to 100,000 board feet could be taken from a single tree. Such giant trees usually reach their full size between 200 and 800 years, though fir trees with 1,200 to 1,700 rings have been counted in extreme cases.

  5. Ed

    It is probably good that the park is closed to camping, for the protection of a very rare forest type. South Whidbey Is state park has low elevation old growth fir and it is slowly being destroyed by the campers. Most of the trees around the camp sites have significant damage from campers with axes and eye bolts and spikes for tent supports. Many of the trees have already died. The state park crew is very aware of the problem. As far as safety for the campers, I have camped there only about 4 times and on 2 of the nights I heard large limbs crash to the ground during the night. I mean big limbs.

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