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Sunday, June 5, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Wild Sky calms this hiker's soul

For years, I have taken business cards and calls. I've listened intently to a thousand pitches and promised to do what I could.

But this was the first time that I had been taken away from the table, off the phone and, literally, into the woods to see for myself What's At Stake.

My son and I recently hiked the proposed Wild Sky wilderness area to Barclay Lake, with members of the Washington Wilderness Coalition (WWC), U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and about 50 parents and kids from Index Elementary School and The Meridian School in Seattle.

The hike is an annual outing for the students, who participated in an art and essay contest centered on Wild Sky and what it means to them. After a brief awards ceremony, we all headed onto the trail, chattering for a while, then falling silent as the trees surrounded us like a cool green comforter.

It was contemplative. It was wet. And it was special — even more so, since Wild Sky's future is in the balance. The area is the subject of a bill co-sponsored by Larsen and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

It seeks to have these 106,000 acres in the North Cascades designated a federal wilderness area, spared from mining and logging.

The bill has passed twice in the Senate but has stalled in the House. And the move is being opposed by entities such as the Sultan City Council, which sees it as "a way to restrict land use and access under the guise of preservation."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is doing its best to roll back the 2001 Roadless Forest Conservation Rule, which protects 58.5 million acres of forests nationwide — 4 million of them in this state. Bush is leaving it up to each state's governor to decide which areas should be protected, "but the political process is stacked against protecting roadless forests," said Tom Uniack of the WWC. "There is clearly a trend; things are going the other way."

While 4 million acres of protected forests amount to only 10 percent of the state's area, it should mean more than space.

Easing the regulations would open up forests to roads that would make way for the timber industry — and in the process, damage what we desperately need to remain human: old-growth forest. Plants that can't be bought in a nursery. Cool earth that feels like carpet under your feet, and a place away from the day-to-day din.

"It's got what people want to leave the city to see," Uniack said. "Urbanization and population growth are so much a part of our situation."

All within a 90-minute drive from Puget Sound.

It's amazing that politics can find their way out here, how the fate of a forest can be formed by pols at podiums some 2,500 miles away.

This year's Earth Day theme centered on protecting the Earth for future generations. I spent the day with the next one all around me, walking, talking, falling quiet, waiting while my son searched for the perfect hiking stick.

May he search for years to come.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

Take a hike, Sultan.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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