The Headwaters Forest Reserve was created to protect the last large, intact, old growth coast redwood forest on the planet that remained in private ownership, punctuating a 13-year campaign that involved mass demonstrations and acts of non-violent civil disobedience, lawsuits filed by EPIC and others, and a huge network of groups and volunteers working to get the word out and influence lawmakers.
Only about 40 percent of the 7,472-reserve contained old growth or residual old growth at the time of the land transfer in 1999. There were clearcuts, landslides, and thousands of miles of roads and skid roads, hundreds of old, failing stream crossings, and millions of tons of earthen material to stabilize. Most of the previously-logged areas now contain evenaged stands thirty-years-old or less.
In addition to the congressional mandate to maintain existing old growth forests in the Reserve in an Ecological Reserve status, a mandate also exists to restore landscapes, watersheds, and forests previously damaged by logging. The BLM has removed roads, restored stream channels, fixed stream crossings, thinned over-dense previously-logged stands, while it simultaneously monitors the endangered fish and wildlife that utilize the reserve as a last refugia, all as part of its Resource Management Plan for the Reserve.
Marbled murrelets, northern spotted owls, coho salmon, Pacific fisher, black bear, mountain lions, black-tailed deer, great horned-owls, tree-voles, and woodrats, just to name a few, call the Headwaters Forest Reserve home. The Reserve boasts flowers of spring Western trillium, and the serpent-like feted adder’s tongue. Douglas Iris, rhododendrons, and a barrage of berry blossoms and fruits also call the Headwaters Reserve home.
Twenty years later, the Headwaters Forest Reserve receives thousands of visitors each year. The South Fork Elk River Trailhead, located at the end of Elk River Road, south of Eureka, hosts hikers, runners, bicyclists, baby strolling and roller-blading as it follows the South Fork Elk River through the old logging ghost-town of Falk to the Headwaters Education Center.
The Headwaters Forest Reserve currently only contains two public hiking trails in keeping with the designation as an Ecological Reserve and part of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands Network.
The South Fork Elk River Trail is open for public day-use access, with a trail that runs nearly 11-miles round-trip. The Salmon Pass Trail is restricted access and is only open seasonally with reservation made for tours through the BLM. The Salmon Pass Trail is an approximately 3-mile loop that accesses the Salmon Creek side of the Reserve.
The existence of relatively few trails doesn’t translate into a lack of visitation in the Headwaters Forest Reserve. The Reserve’s proximity to Eureka and the open-access on the South Fork Elk River Trail and the flat riverine nature of the trail for the first three miles makes it a perfectly-suited location for all levels of visitors.
It is a real work-out, no matter which trail one chooses, to be able to experience the majesty of the old growth redwood forest at the Headwaters Forest Reserve; this is all too fitting, and very much the spirit of the place, and all those that dedicated parts of their lives to its creation. This is a spirit very much like that the old growth forest itself, stout, strong, tenacious, precious, and rare.