Creating Sustainable Trail Access to Teneriffe Falls
Creating pathways and a trailhead to one of the first Natural Resource Conservation Areas in Washington State.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area is home to a 5.5-mile trail that helps to preserve the region’s natural treasures and guides hikers to Teneriffe Falls, a cascade nestled within the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA). Established in 1987, it was among the first NRCAs in the state, safeguarding a remarkable expanse of 13,735 acres. This protected area encompasses four mountain peaks, including Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe, Green Mountain, and Little Si, each offering unique perspectives of the surrounding landscape. These peaks are adorned with second- and old-growth forests, subalpine meadows, rock outcrops, and delicate wildflowers throughout the spring and summer months.
The allure of this popular area offers a glimpse into the diverse beauty of the Pacific Northwest, where lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and majestic peaks converge. The conservation area encompasses several stream systems that eventually drain into the Middle Fork or North Fork Snoqualmie River. These streams provide valuable habitat for various plant and animal species, including the state-sensitive boreal bedstraw. The unique features of this area have made it an enchanting destination for recreationists, long before trailheads were there to receive them. What started out as a logging area has become a protected landscape with sustainable trail access that has been decades in the making.
Overcoming Challenges for Access
The story of the Teneriffe Falls Trail begins in 1987 when routes leading to Teneriffe Falls consisted of logging roads within the Department of Natural Resources-managed state trust lands. This state-managed land primarily served to generate non-tax revenue for trust beneficiaries through timber harvesting, with revenue supporting public services such as schools, roads, and libraries. As land managers and communities began to recognize the ecological importance of the area, The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WA-DNR) established the Trust Land Transfer program in 1989 to move underperforming lands that have ecological value out of trust lands and into conservation status. The Trust Land Transfer Program typically moves lands that are economically underperforming out of trust status and into other/more conservation-focused designations. This provides benefits to the trust as well as to conservation. Through this program, WA-DNR transferred privately-owned lands to trust land so that the area could become an NRCA. The Mount Si NRCA was one of the first places where the Trust Land Transfer program was used to move trust lands into conservation status.
After the transfer, trails were formed from former logging roads through collaborations with the Greenway Trust, WA-DNR, and various agencies. To preserve the natural environment, a unique approach that allows the environment to re-wild former logging roads has been adopted in the area. In this method, existing roads were torn up and re-vegetated using a large excavator, allowing nature to take its course, while other paths were narrowed to form trails. With North Bend receiving an average rainfall of 60-70 inches per year, organic growth is abundant. The machine sets the stage for natural regrowth, allowing the trail to harmoniously integrate with its surroundings.
However, the absence of proper trailheads posed a challenge for eager hikers and visitors. Before the Mount Teneriffe Trailhead’s construction in 2017, accessing the falls was a daunting task, as there were no trailheads available which led to parking issues that impacted neighboring communities. To ensure communities had sustainable access to Teneriffe Falls, WA-DNR partnered with the Greenway Trust, Forterra, and WA-DNR, to ensure that the rewilding of the land aligned with a vision to create sustainable trail access. These new trails and trailheads marked the beginning of a new era of accessibility that the Greenway Trust has played a pivotal role in.
Sustainable Trails That Fall in Step With Foot Traffic
Mike Stenger, Recreation Projects Manager for the Greenway Trust, has been working on recreational access to Teneriffe Falls for a decade and has seen firsthand the impacts of a growing population and increased demand for outdoor experiences in the area. Trails that were once wide enough for only one-way traffic have had to get bigger due to heavy use, providing enough space for double-wide traffic.
In late 2022, the Greenway Trust partnered with WA-DNR to fly in materials to install a bridge and connector trail between the Teneriffe Falls Trails and the Mount Teneriffe Trail. The new connection provides hikers with a 5-mile loop while clarifying trail locations.
Since then, there have been ongoing projects aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the trail system. Greenway Trust trail crew members are diligently working alongside volunteers to rehabilitate areas of the trail that have been falling apart. In June 2023, volunteers from The Mountaineers worked with the trail crew to re-route a section of the Teneriffe Falls Trail that had been washed out by rockfall. To complete this trail, volunteers layered a base course of rock from the site, overlain by sod and forest duff as a binder on top of the rocks. Volunteers also removed underground roots, broke and hauled rock to create a stable walking surface, and relocated dirt to bind the rock surface.
Erosion has impacted other areas of the Mount Si NRCA beyond Teneriffe Falls due to the popularity of the area. Just down the road, WA-DNR partnered with the Greenway Trust to renovate Mount Si Trail in 2005 and 2006 to mitigate erosion caused by decades of hiking. Through the collaborative efforts of the Greenway Trust and volunteers, the trail was completely renovated, resulting in a safer and more enjoyable hiking experience.
Conservation Milestones and Responsible Management
Managing access within the conservation area is crucial to protect its pristine wilderness and diverse wildlife. The Greenway Trust, alongside other stakeholders, remains committed to responsible access management and ensuring the preservation of this remarkable natural treasure.
The journey to establish sustainable trail access to Mount Si NRCA through Teneriffe Falls has been a testament to the dedication of trail crews, volunteers, and collaborative efforts of organizations such as the Greenway Trust, Forterra, and WA-DNR. Overcoming challenges, creating access, and embracing environmentally friendly practices have paved the way for a harmonious coexistence between recreational enjoyment and conservation. As visitors traverse the carefully crafted trails, they can recreate responsibly within the landscape, ensuring its beauty and ecological integrity endure for generations to come.
Support from our communities makes projects like these possible. By becoming a donor, you can contribute to funding trail restoration projects that help us stay connected to nature. Consider joining us in preserving these vital connections by donating or volunteering at an upcoming event.