The “Why” Behind Hidden Valley Rules

Fish in the foreground with a creek and forest behind it

The Foundation is committed to keeping our Rhododendron Preserve wild. We work to balance public access with providing a safe and natural place for the wild creatures that call the Preserve home. In order to protect the wild inhabitants, we have a few rules. These rules are rooted in the best science available. We hope this piece serves to give readers a better understanding of our rules and why we have them.

We ask that people leave their pets at home when visiting the Preserve. Studies show that domestic pets on the trail can negatively affect the behavior of the wild creatures that make the Preserve home, sometimes for many hours or days after the visit. In addition, even a healthy dog may harbor pests or parasites that wild animals do not have immunity to. Domestic pets can also transport insects such as fleas and ticks, as well as seeds of invasive plants. By asking people to leave their pets at home, we’re protecting the diverse wildlife on the Preserve.

To maintain the wild nature of the Preserve, we have a single trail on the Preserve. We have also zoned different sections of the Preserve for different levels of access. The Charles Vail Trail to Big Tree is open to public access. Certain other sections are designated for greater access with permission. These include the meadow across the highway that is accessed for parking and the dirt road that is used for monitoring the restoration on the Gardner Hicks section. This road can also be used to access the back of the Kitsap Forest Theater. There are other sections that can be accessed by researchers working on specific projects. Some sections can only be accessed by Foundation personnel for monitoring. Until late last year, the Hidden Valley section of the Preserve was off limits to everyone except Foundation personnel. This changed with the recent demolition and removal of the last remnants of the original homestead and ongoing restoration. It is now open to the public, although we appreciate people staying on the trail in Hidden Valley and being mindful to watch out for recent restoration plantings.

You may know that with guidance and expertise from the Suquamish Tribe and the creek restoration work done over the years, the Preserve has some of the healthiest salmon runs in Western Washington. You may also know that creeks and other waterways are delicate ecosystems. It is critically important to protect creeks and waterways from contamination and from being infected by invasive species. When Suquamish Tribe fisheries biologists wade the creeks in the fall to count spawned salmon or are in the creek in the spring counting the smolts, we ask them to adhere to the same decontamination procedures required by King County. These decontamination procedures mean that even when transitioning from Wildcat Creek to Lost Creek they must scrub their waders, boots, and sampling gear with brushes and spray rinse them with filtered stream water. This is the high degree of care that is required to protect creek ecosystems and maintain a healthy salmon run. It is also why we ask the public to stay out of the creeks.

People playing in the creeks not only poses substantial risk of contamination and introduction of invasive aquatic species, but also disturbs the creek cobble where salmon spawn and where the insect larvae that feed the juvenile salmon hatch. If you are fortunate enough to attend one of our field trips where we learn about the aquatic life in the creeks, you’ll notice that if we pick up a rock to see what is beneath it, we do our best to replace the rock exactly where it came from. We are committed to the principle of “Leave No Trace” in how we interact with the environment.

We take our role as stewards and protectors of this amazing space very seriously, which is why we have rules and ask that everyone follow them. After all, we want to protect this wild space for future generations to enjoy.

– Katha Miller-Winder, Education Committee