The snow is long gone at Leavenworth Ski Hill where formerly white ski slopes are blanketed with green thickets and splashes of color. Each week in spring, a new wave of wildflowers come into bloom and several new species of migratory birds arrive back to their summer home and birdsong fills the air. Managed by the U.S.F.S and open to the public year-round, visitors find themselves just minutes from busy Highway 2, but miles away in spirit once they walk into the forest.
Connie McCauley is one of many Leavenworth locals who regularly walk the paths, enjoying the dappled shade offered by tall ponderosa pine and big-leaf maple trees. Connie remembers, My Ski Hill walks began many years ago when our daughter started a school assignment where each student was asked to find as many wildflower species as possible for an illustrated booklet. My interest in nature was not new but became more focused. I found and still feel after 30 years that the Leavenworth Ski Hill offers an amazing and rare opportunity to walk a mile or two through a variety of easily accessible habitats finding more than 25 species of trees and small shrubs as well as over 100 varieties of wildflowers and grasses.
Newly installed interpretive signs are in place at Ski Hill, thanks to the creative vision and hard work of a Leavenworth high school senior, Daniel Tveton. Last summer, Daniel enlisted the help of his Boy Scout troop to install 30 sign posts along a ½-mile loop, the culmination of his Eagle Scout project. Each sign is an artist-created ceramic tile with the image of a wildflower or wildlife species likely to be seen nearby. Daniel remembers first getting interested in observing and identifying wildlife and plants in fourth grade, when a friend’s mom gave him a field guide. Daniel told me, I wanted to inspire someone’s love of the outdoors, just as mine was inspired as an elementary student, and I think learning and understanding brings this love.
In the spring of 2014, Daniel marked the location of over 55 plants he wanted to feature, and then did the research to learn about them. He designed a walking route that would explore the greatest diversity of species. His list of community supporters is long. He credits U.S.F.S. Gabrielle Snider and Leavenworth Winter Sports Club General Manager Mark Millette for providing key guidance. Daniel had to design sturdy and durable signs that could accommodate winter snow grooming and prolonged exposure to UV light that causes color fading. Local metal worker Larry Stolz taught him to make the sign posts, The Empty Bowls Festival donated paints and helped find over 30 local volunteer artists who painted tiles to Daniel’s scientific specifications. Marson and Marson Lumber Co. donated special tile mounting grout.
Plan a May visit to savor the scent of citrus that fills the air from the bright white flowers of the Mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii) shrub. You’ll likely see vividly orange Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianu) flowers, perched on waist-high stems. The tangerine-colored head of a male Western Tanager may catch your eyes as he sings from a high tree limb, establishing his territory. The loud short chatter of a white-headed woodpecker will help you spot this elegant black-and-white resident as flies between tree trunks. I agree with Connie McCauley when she said, This publically accessible spot is a wonderful way to get out and enjoy some of the very best Mother Nature has to offer!