“Welcome to Okanogan County” the sign reads. Below, like the subtitle of a book telling you what it’s really about, “agriculture, mining, grazing, logging and recreation.” From the Ranger Station steep peaks deep and blue overlap into the dramatic sky. Kelly Baraibar, the district botanist steps out of a forest service car, Usnea lichen hanging from the mirror. Kind, calm and inquisitive, she leads us up into the mountains at Heather and Maple Pass where she is restoring heather patches. Here the impact of visitors becomes clear; wet muddy springs that sustain the heather also tend to send people off the trail, crushing the delicate plants and exposing their roots and the soil to the elements. The soil here accumulated from Mt. Mazama ash deposits on bare bedrock where this heather patch took 7,000 to 10,000 years to establish itself. To protect the plants we section off portions alongside the trail. Kelly leaves us saying, “Maybe I am more hopeful than I should be”. But it is hope that keeps her walking up the mountain and re-roping off the trails to save a patch of this world: the heather’s beautiful bellflowers and roots that hold onto history, if you take the time to bend down and see them.
By: Emma Rollins