Teeming with native life (and a bit of non-native scotchbroom), Darlin Creek Preserve is an excellent place to go to observe Pacific Northwest flora and fauna right near the city. This urban green space narrowly escaped being developed into a neighborhood in 2016, and we have Capitol Land Trust to thank for its preservation.
Although Capitol Land Trust had been working to save finances to buy the property during the last decade, they had been unable to save the $2 million necessary. The money was finally raised when the previous landowners, Aloha Lumber Corporation, gave Capitol Land Trust one last chance to buy the property before acting on their plans for a 45-home development. Rather than develop the area, the lumber company chose to support the many conservation groups that have worked to save the area.
The area is relevant to a much larger ecosystem, notably because Darlin, Dempsey, and Pants Creeks are all key migration avenues for salmon such as steelhead, cutthroat, coho, and Chinook. Besides salmon, the preserve boasts beaver ponds which divert water flow through streams throughout the site. In over 100 acres of wetland, bird species like wood ducks, geese, kingfishers, and warblers thrive among the brush and wetlands. A flowery undergrowth of bleeding heart flowers, false lily-of-the-valley, trillium, and other native plants line the trail, and tracts of scotchbroom are slowly being removed and replaced with native species as Capitol Land Trust and their partners work to preserve the native habitat.
This preservation isn’t just a wildlife sanctuary, though; the public is welcome to enjoy it, too. Begin the journey by parking outside the unmarked gate. From there, follow an old logging road straight into the preserve. Only a few hundred feet onto the old road there are three options: left up another old road, straight along the same road, or right down a road-turned trail. Left leads up a hill to a couple water towers and then back down to the same main road you started on, a .3 mile detour including a somewhat steep boot path to complete the loop back to the main road. Continue straight or turn right to follow a 2 mile loop trail around the pond system.
Continuing straight along the road, reach a brand new bridge at .5 miles. The bridge replaced an old culvert that had narrowed Darlin Creek, and made it impossible for fish to pass. Now, fish can easily swim beneath the bridge, and the stream can flow naturally into the rest of the wetland. Young native plant species are planted in the area surrounding the bridge, and the stream bed itself is also being restored. Just past the bridge, turn right down a short boot path to reach a viewpoint of the pond, partially created by a beaver dam across Darlin Creek just to the right of the view point.
Back on the main path, climb slowly but steadily up around the East side of the lake. About 1.3 miles from the trailhead the trail crosses a creek at another beaver dam. Hop across the creek and continue on a small boot path through a meadowy region of forest. The forest closes in as the trail turns back down the hill toward the lake, and about .2 miles later the path takes a sharp right turn onto an old logging road. Follow this road for .3 miles to a junction. To the right, one old road descends to cross the swampy valley of the preserve and meet the first main road the journey started on. Going back this way shortens the trip slightly, but the path is often impassable because of a stream that has turned the old roadbed into a riverbed. For a safer alternative, continue straight at the junction and walk .3 miles to a connecting trail branching off to the right. Turn here to return to the lake and the main road, completing the 2 mile loop.
While this loop is the main path in the preserve, there are several old logging roads and boot paths branching off from the main route. These side routes can be fun to explore and many of them lead to hidden away pond views if the paths are not flooded over.
WTA Pro Tip: There is now (19 August 2019) a sanican near the parking area.