Features protected: Old-growth Douglas-fir forest, subalpine lands, mid-elevation lakes, and habitat for marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl and native mountain goat.
Ecoregion: North Cascades (King County)
Description: The Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA) was established in 2011 with the transfer of 9,000 acres from DNR-managed state trust lands into conservation status. Today, the boundary has expanded to 10,828 acres. The NRCA abuts Mount Si NRCA to create a large forested landscape from the City of North Bend to Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest— extending from 800 feet elevation at the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River to 5,000 feet. This conservation landscape protects wildlife habitat, scenic views and the upper reaches of the river, while also offering low-impact recreation on a variety of hiking trails.
Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA is located along the western edge of the Cascade Mountains and stretches from the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River on the north to the South Fork Snoqualmie River. It includes the Gifford Lakes and Granite Lakes drainages. The western shoreline of Thompson Lake also lies within the NRCA, with the remainder of the lake located in the national forest.
Natural Features: The NRCA consists of a mix of low- and mid-elevation forest, subalpine forest, subalpine shrubland and meadow, talus fields and riparian vegetation along the major water courses and around the lakes. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) dominate most low-elevation forest stands, with red alder (Alnus rubra) and big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) common along streams. Above approximately 3,000 feet and on more moist sites, forests become increasingly dominated by Pacific silver fir, mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana), and noble fir. Highest elevation stands are generally dominated by mountain hemlock.
The age of forest communities varies over the landscape, with stands ranging from 15 to more than 500 years old. The majority of the lower elevation forests are 70-80 years old, with more recently harvested and replanted patches that are 15-30 years old. The oldest forests, some more than 500 years old, are found at higher elevations.
Subalpine shrublands and meadows are found in a number of locations, particularly the Granite Lakes and Gifford Lakes basins. Scattered talus and rock outcroppings occur over much of the upper elevations on steep, west-facing slopes, around Mailbox Peak and Dirty Harry Peak, and just north of the Gifford Lakes.
Helping to meet the commitments of DNR’s trust lands Habitat Conservation Plan, nearly the entire area is considered Nesting Roosting Foraging (NRF) habitat for the northern spotted owl. Older forest within the NRCA is also considered potential or suitable habitat for marbled murrelet, which have been detected within about 10 miles of the conservation area to the north, east, and south.
The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River runs along the northwestern boundary of the site and includes a number of associated wetlands, as well as gravel bar and main channel habitats. In addition, the NRCA contains a number of mountain streams, lakes, and wetlands including the Granite Lakes and Gifford Lakes systems. Both of these lake systems are located in glacially-carved basins and include a pair of lakes, each 5-15 acres in size. The Granite Lakes system also includes a wetland near the head of the drainage that feeds into the uppermost lake. Several other forested, shrub-scrub and emergent wetlands are also found in the conservation area, some at low elevations near the river and others at higher elevations in association with the lake systems. The lakes and associated stream and wetlands within the NRCA are potential habitat for several rare amphibians, such as the Cascades frog, coastal tailed frog, and western toad. Steep, rocky slopes within the site are also potential habitat for the Larch Mountain salamander.
Science, Research and Monitoring
Public and private universities, other research institutions or individual researchers may contact DNR to propose a research project at Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA. If you are interested in pursuing a research project, please contact David Wilderman, Natural Areas Program statewide ecologist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Environmental Education and Public Access
The Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA offers an excellent outdoor classroom and is convenient to many school communities in the Puget Sound region. A variety of trails in the NRCA provide opportunities to study the ecology of the NRCA, older forest ecosystems and stream systems. For more information, contact the DNR South Puget Sound Region natural areas manager listed here.
Volunteer and Stewardship Opportunities
If you are interested in volunteer and stewardship opportunities in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA, please contact the DNR South Puget Sound Region natural areas manager.
Directions to Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA and Mailbox Peak Trailhead
Traveling either east or west on Interstate 90, take Exit 34 (just east of the City of North Bend). Turn north (toward Mount Si) onto 468th Avenue and follow it approximately 1 mile to the junction with SE Middle Fork Road (Forest Road 56). Turn right and continue on SE Middle Fork Road approximately 2.5 miles. Park adjacent to the road in the small roadside parking area or turn right onto a gated road and park in the parking lot, which is currently open Friday through Sunday and closes each of those days at dusk. The parking lot is closed Monday through Thursday. To assure emergency vehicle access, cars must not block the gated access road to the parking area.
A Washington State Discover Pass is required for parking at this site. This funding helps DNR manage these important natural areas across the state.