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The tale of two Illahees — an Illaheean odyssey
Illahee State Park is safe for now — but there’s another Illahee in East Bremerton.
Thirty paces up the trail and it’s almost like you’ve left the city altogether.
The hum of the highway is distant, nearly drown out by the sound of birds talking amongst themselves. That creepy, campy horror flick sense of suspense weaves itself in with the silence of the Illahee Preserve.
One of Kitsap’s last remaining stands of old growth forest blocks out the sun. This writer has come on a quest to find an 800-year-old culturally modified cedar along Illahee Creek, rumored by local arbor expert and historian Jim Trainer.
Trainer is slated to lead an excursion to that historic tree for the Great Peninsula Conservancy June 13.
“That’s going to be a really special walk,” Kate Kuhlman, director of operations for the GPC said.
But this week being National Trails Week, and Trainer being out of town, it seemed reasonable that one could find his own way to the magnificent specimen — a tree like that is bound to stand out in a crowd.
But an hour deep into the 700-acre nature preserve, many, many trees later, with no creek to be found, or even heard for that matter, the decision to come alone seems less and less rational.
Trainer probably knows this place like the back of his hand. He’s likely been through these woods many times seeking out his champion trees and culturally modified wonders. This writer can count on one hand the number of times he’s been here, and he can hardly distinguish a cedar from a fir.
Perhaps more pertinent might have been the distinction between Illahee Preserve and Illahee State Park, maybe it was the wrong Illahee altogether.
Illahee State Park has been in the news a lot lately. Earlier this March, facing a $52 million cutback from its annual operating budget, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission announced a number of cutbacks it was considering, including some 30 state parks that would either be transferred or mothballed — i.e. gates locked, camp rangers relieved from their duties — to help resolve the budget crisis.
Illahee and a few other local state parks were on the list, along with some 20 state parks staff positions.
Citizens responded with thousands of letters and comments in protest, letting the commission know just how important the parks are to them.The state retorted last month with a plan to keep all parks open through the next biennium by covering the shortfall with a $5 donation attached to vehicle owners’ renewing their license tabs. The $5 is optional, but will be automatically deducted unless specificied.
Under the plan, the parks would stay open, the commission said, as long as the new program provides sufficient revenue to pay for their operation. In addition, a planned $2 increase in the fee for standard tent and utility camping starts July 1. So, it seems Illahee State Park is safe, for now.
But Illahee State Park — said to be home to one of the largest yew trees in the nation — is a completely different entity from the 700-acre Illahee Preserve where Trainer will be hosting the June 13 GPC walk, located just a mile or two down the road.