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Opal Creeks ancient echoes

by: Stover E. Harger III BUBBLING BROOK — White water cascades over stones and moss about two miles from the Opal Creek trailhead in Marion County.

Hiking through the Opal Creek wilderness area in Marion County doesn't just feel ancient. It is ancient.

Unlike the monoculture forests that populate the borders of our Oregon cities - often replanted after decades of harvesting - the varieties of flora in the Opal Creek Ancient Forest are quite the sight. The towering old-growth trees are naturally spaced far enough apart so you can easily view the beautiful, lush groundcover that thrives in the forest.

This entire 35,000-acre watershed is one of the last remnants of the huge forests that once covered the western slope of the Cascades, according to the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center.

Whether you want to take an easy seven-mile roundtrip jaunt out to the breathtaking translucent Opal Pool or challenge yourself on the 14.5-mile loop trail to the top of the 4,969-foot Whetstone Mountain, there is no shortage of expedition options for the experienced or not.

While you move through the forest, pay attention to the long-abandoned forestry machinery scattered along the Opal Creek Trail. Two miles into the trail you can even spot the decommissioned steam-powered Merten sawmill, which was built in 1943 to log five of the forest's acres.

If you want more than a day trip, you can either camp or rent a cabin from the Forest Center: www.opalcreek.org/experience/accommodations.aspx.

To reach Opal Creek, take I-5 to Exit 253 (Hwy 22 Stayton/Detroit). Head east on Highway 22 for 22 miles. When you see the Swiss Village Restaurant on the right side of the road, turn left onto North Fork Road to enter the Elkhorn Valley Recreation Area. You will be in the Willamette National Forest after 14 miles. Reach the Opal Creek parking area and trailhead by heading about two miles down Forest Road 2209.