Autumn means mushrooms; walks by creek and through the trees

A family walks along the trail at the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in the fall.
A family walks along the trail at the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in the fall. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

These three Whatcom County parks shine in autumn.

Stimpson Family Nature Preserve

Located just a few miles east of Bellingham, Stimpson Family Nature Preserve is among the area’s more popular local four-season family hikes.

Autumn offers a unique opportunity to examine various kinds of mushrooms, which sprout after the fall monsoons return. Mushroom hunting is particularly fascinating for small children, said Erin Moore of the Northwest Mushroomers Association.

“There’s a really good diversity of mushrooms at Stimpson,” she said. “You’ll see a lot of conks on trees, they have a life cycle (visible year-round), but in fall it’s moist and their colors are good.”

Among Moore’s favorites are the family of mycena, which are tiny, umbrella-like, and sometimes come in vibrant colors such as yellow or orange. “They look like little fairy parasols; very small and very beautiful,” Moore said.

Another mushroom that’s readily identifiable is the fly agaric or amanita muscaria, an iconic specimen with a spotted red cap and a white stem — the prototypical toadstool of folklore.

Moore said children are intrigued by the idea that, generally, mushrooms are the visible fruit of a massive organism that lives almost entirely underground.

“It’s kind of like you took the apple tree, if you reverse it. These are the things that breakdown the woody matter. That’s really important to the forest ecosystem,” Moore said.

Mushrooms come in three basic kinds, she said: decomposers such as conks; parasites such as honey mushrooms; and micorrhizals, such as the chanterelles, which live on roots of live trees and form a symbiotic relationship with the host.

To reach Stimpson Family Nature Preserve from Bellingham, take Lakeway Drive east to Cable Street and turn right onto Austin Street/Lake Louise Road. The trailhead is about 1.5 miles ahead.

Parking is free and there are pit toilets. Trailhead is served daily, except Sunday, by Whatcom Transportation Authority bus No. 512.

There’s an easy and well-maintained three-mile loop trail through forest and wetlands with a few old-growth trees; and a one-mile side loop explores Geneva Pond. No bicycles or pets are allowed on the trails, and no mushroom harvesting or collecting of any kind. Bring a pocket magnifier to examine mushrooms up close, and a guidebook such as David Arora’s “All that the Rain Promises and More.”

Redtail Reach

Redtail Reach is a section of Whatcom Creek Trail between Interstate 5 and Woburn Street, a small oasis of habitat sandwiched behind the industrial and commercial areas on Fraser and Iowa streets. Recent restoration work has added trees and created oxbows and backwater eddies along the main channel for salmon and other creatures taking advantage of the site’s rebirth.

In fall, it’s fabulous for birding and for catching a glimpse of spawning salmon.

Particularly in autumn, Redtail Reach is a haven for migrating birds, said Clayton Snider, a natural resources specialist with Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department. He said year-round species include the area’s namesake red-tailed hawk, American goldfinch, white-crowned sparrow, American dipper, and the kingfisher, a blue-and-white bird with a prominent crested head. Common mammals include cottontail rabbits, gray squirrel, Richardson’s squirrel, chipmunks, voles, and mice. A sharp eye might spot a turtle, too, Snider said.

“You’ll see them starting to feed before hibernation,” he said.

Salmon can be seen in late fall from a footbridge at Salmon Park. Otters and beavers have been seen in the area lately, too. There’s also plenty of evidence of beaver activity, such as nibbled branches.

Access Redtail Reach via trails from Whatcom Falls Park. Or, park your car at the Frank Geri softball fields near Fraser and Puget streets or in one of the lots at the industrial parks on Fraser Street. There’s foot access from Woburn Street south of Iowa Street and from the entrance to Salmon Park, on Fraser Street just east of Puget Street. Find a printable map at www.cob.org/documents/parks/parks-trails/trail-guide/whatcom_creek.pdf.

Shadow of the Sentinels

It’s a long drive from the Bellingham area for such a short walk, but the half-mile loop trail with interpretive signs is a perfect introduction for young children to the rainforest ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest.

The old-growth section of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest offers a glimpse into a Narnia-like world of towering hemlocks, Western red cedars, and Douglas firs, including one tree some 7 feet across and hundreds of years old. Mosses and lichen dangle from the branches and ferns crowd the forest floor, lending an ethereal quality to the light that manages to penetrate the high forest canopy.

A recent rain or light snowfall, both of which are possible in the autumn, add a magical and mystical quality. A level boardwalk and asphalt paving makes the trail accessible to all. There’s a pit toilet but no running water. Parking requires a $5 day-use fee or seasonal pass, available from the Mount Baker Ranger District in Sedro Woolley, 360-856-5700, ext. 515.

To reach Shadow of the Sentinels Trail, take Interstate 5 south to Cook Road and head east to Highway 20. Turn left and continue east to Baker Lake Highway, also called Forest Service Road 11. Trailhead is 15 miles ahead on the right, just past the Koma Kulshan Guard Station.

Reach Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com. Tweeting @DressLikeADuck.