Enjoy state parks while you can


Staff Report

Now more than ever, KP residents should take advantage of what they have. It could be gone, and the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got 'til it’s gone.

A total of 13 state parks could close as Gov. Christine Gregoire proposes to cut $ 40.6 million from the Natural Resources program. Joemma Beach and Kopachuck are on the list.

Anyone who’s taken a walk or ride on one of Washington’s trails understands the value these places store for us humans. Pierce County alone has over 10 formal, state-supported trails, and the Key Peninsula has seven more. At the top of the Key is 360 acres of land owned by the Department of Natural Resources found off 302 at 144th, with parking at the gate on the right.

The trails here are accessible to walkers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. The main trail is a large, open loop that takes about an hour to walk, and there are smaller trails that cut back and forth in the woods that line the main oval trail. This is a great place to get out for a long walk with or without a dog, or to take a ride without running into too many people. There are no facilities at this trail, so bring water and use the restroom before you head out. Drive west on 302 from the KP Highway split a few miles, then take a right on 150th street and then the first left and you’ll find the Rocky Creek Conservation Area.

This 224-acre site has a complex network of trails that basically form three large loops with a central starting point, and a few sub-loops. There are maps of the trails available from Key Peninsula Parks, and signs on the trails providing direction, because it’s easy to get lost out there until you learn where to go. The foliage is tight along the trails, making this a productive bird and bug-watching location. One of the loops has a stream that runs full in the rainy season, with a bench overlooking the water at the end of one trail. Just past Lake Minterwood on the right is a small parking area near a gate that allows access to 480 acres of DNR land similar to the 144thstreet site as a location with no facilities but trails accessible for walking and riding.

Continue south on the KP Highway a few miles past Key Center, take a left on Van Beek, then park at the gate on the left to access Maple Hollow Trails. This 58-acre site offers an oval trail with mid-point access to a stretch of beach along the Puget Sound. This is a bit of a walk to the water, so this is still more of a hiking trail than a take-baby-to-beach location. Penrose Point State Park has 2.5 miles of hiking/biking trails, and 2.5 miles of saltwater frontage to walk around. Walk the shoreline at lower tides and you can observe water birds, crabs, bald eagles, harbor seals, and other wildlife that will reveal itself more readily if you find a quiet spot and sit for a few minutes.

The eastern shoreline of the park offers a view of Mt. Rainer across the Sound. This park has camping and facilities as well, which makes it a great destination for hikers and families. Joemma Beach is a family gem as well because it has facilities and close beach access, in addition to camping. On a sunny day, try Joemma in the afternoon for full warm sun, even on a cool day. Joemma is one of the State Parks that may be one of the 13 parks closed under the Governor’s new budget revealed last month. A new shoreline park in development, Taylor Bay, is located off 76th street, down near the end of the Peninsula.   The Taylor Bay land is 39 acres and is combination of thick forest, meadowland, and shoreline gravel beach.

While there are currently no facilities at Taylor Bay, it is available for trail and shoreline recreation use. All trails mentioned share restrictions on shooting/firearms and unlicensed motor vehicle use, as well as specific regulations that vary by location. All of the trails listed here, except the state parks, allow you to responsibly walk your dog off-leash or ride horses and bikes on trails. These trails are an excellent way to observe native species of the Key Peninsula, from birds to mushrooms to critters, mammals, fish, birds and plants. The trails provide a way to slow down for an hour or so, connect with the land, and further appreciate the benefits these preserved spaces provide for all of us.

And you don’t have to go alone. Penrose Point offers classes that get out and explore the native life year-round, from cooking nettles to bird-watching. The Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park District is looking to start a Key Peninsula trail walking group. Contact KP Metro Parks for more information about this newly forming group.

For those who prefer a more ordered trail, the Cushman Power Line Trail in Gig Harbor is about 2.5 miles of paved trail near Highway 16 that runs along or under a power line. Many people walk, run, or ride bikes along the 16-foot wide path, which is perfect for kids of all ages.