Victory on Heybrook Ridge

Group changes former logging property into county park

Kelly Sullivan

Almost exactly 11 years after the first notice of proposed logging was posted at the Index General Store, the proponents of Heybrook Ridge can finally celebrate its preservation.

The grand opening of the roughly 145-acre Heybrook Ridge County Park in Index will start at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21. A group walk is planned for the roughly 1.7-mile lone trail following a short ceremony in the parking lot. The hike is expected to end on time for the 10th annual Heybrook Hoedown.

Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism senior planner Kevin Teague credits the Friends of Heybrook Ridge, an Index-based nonprofit, for preserving the site. Board president Ann Darlington said it was a collaboration with the county, logging company, other regional nonprofits and a very generous anonymous donor that made the rescue successful.

“We are like a magic story in the way this all happened,” she said. “There was no bluster or anger; there was good conversation right from the start, and the company said, ‘Oh, we had no idea. We will not clear cut if you can pay us the value of the lumber on the property, and the land is yours and the trees stay.’ ”

Darlington said it all started in the kitchen of Index residents Sue and Bill Cross. She said a group of locals got together and decided they wanted to act in response to W.B. Foresters Inc.’s intent to log the ridge.

“They had waited 30 years for the trees to be ready for harvest and expected their land investment to pay off, with a short-term benefit of jobs for townspeople that would be welcomed,” according to a history written by one of the Friends of Heybrook Ridge founders. Louise Lindgren is still on the nonprofit’s board of directors and was the first president — she also happens to be a retired professional historian, Darlington said.

“I would like to name the park after her personally, but she wouldn’t let that happen,” she said.

Darlington said she and her husband came on board months after the first meetings. The couple lives in Seattle full time and owns a cabin in the small town that sits on the north fork of the Skykomish River.

It was found out the Buse family owns the Snohomish County-based timber company that was to log the ridge. Luckily, Lindgren knew them personally, Darlington said. The family was quite surprised to learn the residents no longer needed jobs harvesting could provide, and they wanted to keep their scenic views intact. By that time, the recreation industry had grown enough in the area that the need for timber revenue was outpaced, she said.

Heybrook Ridge soars high above the Skykomish River to the south of Index. It shares a skyline with Mount Index, which peeks out from behind.

The formation has a long history of logging, and before that the land was traversed by the Skykomish People, according to Lindgren’s historical account of the area. A lumber mill was built by Sylvester Smith at the base of the north side of the ridge in 1903. His teams were “felling trees so huge that often one log alone would fill an entire railroad car,” she wrote.

By 1911, the renamed and merged Index-Galena Lumber Co. was producing about 60,000 board feet of lumber per day, Lindgren wrote. Louis Heybrook and his wife operated a smaller mill, the Heybrook Lumber Co., on the south side of the ridge.

Lindgren wrote that logging reached its peak in the late 1920s. The ridge saw different ownership over the years. Eventually, another businessman acquired the Heybrooks’ property and the mill closed. By 1975, the area was owned by Buse Timber and Sales. 

The standard back then was to let the land replenish on its own, Darlington said. It took 100 years, but the ridge that was once wiped clean of trees regrew completely. It is a good example of how that approach can work, she said.

The cost of the matured swath of timber 10 years ago was substantial, Darlington said. The first price tag was $1.3 million. For a town of less than 200 people, “that was onerous, but folks went after it,” she said.

The Buse family was generous though, Darlington said. They told the Friends of Heybrook Ridge to “pay us the value of the trees and you will get the entire property,” she said.

They gave the nonprofit a year to come up with the money, Darlington said. The logging company pushed back the deadline occasionally when needed. During that time help from the Cascade Land Conservancy, now known as Forterra, was sought out. The Seattle-based environmental nonprofit agreed to take them on as a project, but with some hesitation, she said.

“I am not sure they believed we could (save the ridge), I mean, who would have?” Darlington said.

She said the first Heybrook Hoedown fundraiser was hosted in 2007 in Everett; most of the events since then have been held at the River House in Index. By 2008, Friends of Heybrook Ridge garnered enough local support to raise close to $100,000. Most of it came in the form of small donations, she said.

Then, out of nowhere, the total skyrocketed through a $500,000 donation that was gifted anonymously, Darlington said. Only a handful of people know who it was from. Suddenly, the project became an “intriguing option rather than a hopeless cause,” she said.

The donation allowed the Friends of Heybrook Ridge to work with Snohomish County to secure different Conservation Futures funds, which are grants that support preservation of land for public use.

Darlington said the CLC helped negotiate the partnership. The first grant helped purchase the property from W.B. Foresters, and the second was used to buy the land where the trailhead was to be built, she said.

The county matched about $650,000, Darlington said. W.B. Foresters lowered the asking price to $1.2 million, so the land could be purchased, Lindgren wrote.

Teague said the agreement is unique in Snohomish County, which has roughly 12,000 acres of park spread across about 110 sites. Friends of Heybrook Ridge members are critical to the ongoing operations of the new park, he said.

Parks, Recreation and Tourism staff are stretched thin, especially park rangers, Teague said. The nonprofit sends its own people up the trail regularly for safety checks and to see if any maintenance is needed. If there is a tree down, or part of the trail is washed out, the group will contact the county. Sometimes they address the issue themselves, he said. 

“I don’t know of any other properties where we have that situation,” he said. “Especially to have a group as active as this is.”

The park’s only trail is about a 3.4-mile roundtrip with about 780 feet of elevation gain, according to the Washington Trails Association. The nonprofit classifies the trek as moderately steep, and one that heads through a rocky and moss-covered forest of lush alders. Walkers will be met with a stream, and steep switchbacks in some sections.

From the top is a clear view of the Skykomish Valley, Bridal Veil Falls and Mount Index.

Darlington said the trail has existed since the late spring of 2016. The WTA agreed to help develop and fine tune the pathway after it was started by a private contractor the county hired.

Volunteer crews helped surface the steep sections with large granite rocks to create a series of steps, and completed other work to mitigate erosion last spring, Darlington said. The county installed a gravel parking lot at the base of the trail this year, she said, and crews worked on the trail.

Darlington and Teague said the route is already proving to be very popular. Darlington said she has seen many children complete the hike, although they seem to have above-average stamina for someone their age. She has met people from all over the state on her own treks up the trail.

The next steps are to continue to expand on the system. Teague said eventually the county will collaborate with other agencies to connect the Heybrook Ridge trail to the Heybrook Lookout trail.

Washington Trails Association member Jen Gradisher, who has worked closely with Friends of Heybrook Ridge, will help design the layout of the new pathways, Darlington said. First up will be the development of an ADA-accessible lowland loop in the park, she said.

Darlington said down the road a footpath will attach another roughly 10-acre parcel purchased for $25,000 by the Friends of Heybrook Ridge from a private property owner. The group then gifted it to the county park.

The section is separated from the new park. The connector trail will have to cut through an easement on U.S. Forest Service land. Once established, the system will stretch from the top of the existing trail to another viewpoint that overlooks Canyon Falls, she said.

Teague said next year the county will likely pursue more grant money for the lowland trail. He said construction may start as soon as 2019.

The grand opening date for the new park was set to coincide with Index’s annual Heybrook Hoedown. For a while, the Friends of Heybrook Ridge had decided to take a break from putting on the fundraiser. The residents of Index protested. It appears to have become a permanent fixture in the town, Teague said.

The 2017 Heybrook Hoedown will take place 5-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, following the ceremony at the trail. It will be held once again at the River House, which is located at 444 Avenue A.

In the coming years, the county and Friends of Heybrook Ridge will work together to create a park Recreation Management Plan, according to the county. Future developments will include environmental education and passive recreation opportunities at the park.

Darlington said collaborations will continue with the different partners who helped get things started. Friends of Heybrook Ridge will keep working to raise money for the future trails.

Teague said the public space is to remain a park indefinitely. Friends of Heybrook Ridge will always be a part of the discussions that decide the future of the park, Darlington said.

“Those who make this century’s footprints on the trails of Heybrook Ridge Park may well honor the memory of those who were stewards of the land for millennia,” Lindgren wrote in her history of the area.


Photos courtesy of Ann Darlington: Volunteers crews work on the first trail inside the Heybrook Ridge County Park. Bridal Veil Falls can be seen from the top of Heybrook Ridge. The 2017 Heybrook Hoedown will take place 5-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, following the ceremony at the trail. It will be held once again at the River House, which is located at 444 Avenue A.


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