We both froze in our muddy tracks, momentarily startled to have encounter like this inside Centralia’s city limits.
At least, that’s what I was thinking. No telling what was going through the mind of the small deer as it stared at me with its huge brown eyes. Considering we were on Seminary Hill, less than a mile from a neighborhood, it was probably hoping I’d toss him some food.
I slowly reached for my phone, but the camera-shy animal slipped into the shrubbery before I could get a shot. As I looked for it, a second deer sneaked across the trail behind me. I managed only a couple blurry shots of this creature.
Coming face to face with wildlife is one of the many treats that comes with hiking. And while we sometimes might think that we have to travel into our forests and parks to commune with nature, really you don’t have to go that far.
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In recent weeks I’ve spent more time than is typically desirable dashing up and down Interstate 5 for work and to shuttle kids to various athletic events. In cruising the asphalt thoroughfare, navigating traffic and passing communities large and small, it’s often easy to feel far removed from nature.
When I can shoehorn it into the schedule, I like to carve out a few minutes for a quick hike. And there are some good ones near I-5. The Nisqually Wildlife Refuge near Lacey is probably the most obvious in the South Sound. But ere are five other quick hikes near I-5:
EXIT 40: Lake Sacajewea
Longview’s version of Central Park draws walkers, joggers and even kayakers and canoers to visit the lake, watch birds, and enjoy the Japanese Gardens and the Frank Willis Arboretum. Bridges cross the long lake at several locations, allowing visitors to make loop hikes of various lengths up to 3.5 miles. The trail is flat and well-manicured by the city’s parks department. The trail passes R.A. Long High School, which looks more like a college thanks to its Corinthian columns and clock tower. The park includes a Solar System walk that is a 1.64-mile scale representation of the sun and the planets (including Pluto). Fishing is permitted and leashed pets are welcome. mylongview.com.
EXIT 82: Seminary Hill
Seminary Hill Natural Area in Centralia is a build-your-own-adventure type of hike. The 72-acre is packed with a maze of trails, all of which are quite short. But start linking these trails together and you can easily spend an hour or two wandering the woods and enjoying the moss-covered trees, occasional views of the surrounding area and maybe even a deer or two. It’s hard to get lost in this small trail system, but it can be easy to slip on rainy days. Roots and abundance of leaves are all slippery when wet. But the trails, steep in some areas, are well maintained by the Friends of Seminary Hill. The volunteer group has also produced a guide to the birds most frequently spotted in the park. Pets on leashes are welcome, but bikes and motorize vehicles are not. cityofcentralia.com.
EXIT 195: Spencer Island Park
Spencer Island just outside Everett is an ideal hiking spot for those who love viewing birds and other animals. A 1999 guide to the Snohomish River Estuary calls Spencer Island “possibly the best birding spot in Puget Sound.” According to the Snohomish County website, the island is also home to deer, coyote and otters among other animals. There are 3.5 miles of hiking trails on the dikes that surround the island. An interpretive boardwalk is part of the trail system. Dogs are permitted only on the northern part of the island managed by the state. snohomishcountywa.gov.
EXIT 225: Little Mountain Park
Little Mountain is easy to miss as you zip through Mount Vernon. However, the little mountain is packed with 8.7 miles of trails and, on clear days, a view of a much bigger mountain: Mount Baker. Trails range from flat to steeper uphill routes that climb to a lookout area. Some trails are open to bikes and pets on leashes are permitted. The trails are mostly short (only one section is longer than a mile), but they can be easily linked. mountvernonwa.gov.
EXIT 252: Sehome Hill Arboretum
Western Washington University has a reputation as an ideal college for outdoor lovers. There are many reasons for this, ranging from neighboring Bellingham Bay to its proximity to the North Cascades. Another reason is a natural area on the edge of campus. Cared for by the school and the city, it can appease those looking for a workout hill or just a casual tour of local plants and trees. There are 5 miles of trails in the area highlighted by a tunnel and the Watch Tower. The wooden tower offers a view of Bellingham Bay. An outdoor classroom area can be seen along Huntoon Trail. The school lists 16 types of birds that frequent the arboretum. Pets on leashes are permitted on the trail. wwu.edu/share.