Into the woods

For anyone who might need a little added inspiration on a woodland hike, the Earth Sanctuary trails near Freeland on Whidbey Island are a true synthesis of fitness and New Age ambiance.

The privately owned, 72-acre property features three ponds, a 13,000-year-old wetland, and a number of recently built sacred spaces located along the trails. Earth Sanctuary owner and creator Chuck Pettis has opened the property to the public, even as he works to preserve and restore the land for the next 500 years to come.

Like Whidbey’s state parks, these trails do require day-use fee of $7. But, for $35, locals or regular island visitors can walk the paths anytime they wish for a year.

Hikers should keep in mind that these trails are more restricted than most. While they are a great place for both adults and children, they are not part of a recreation area. This isn’t the place for a picnic, and bringing the family dog is forbidden.

Getting there: From Highway 525, take Newman Road northbound for about a half mile. A small sign on the right side of the road marks the the driveway into the Earth Sanctuary.

The hike: A walk through the woods and alongside the wetlands at Earth Sanctuary is a contemplative experience, when a walker or hiker is not breathing too hard to notice the scenery. The area’s longest trail, the Celestial Trail, can make a hiker setting a fast pace see a few stars. The trail climbs and climbs and climbs, though the surface of woodchips and woodland debris is easy footing. It is a good place to start a hiking visit to Earth Sanctuary, as it constitutes about a third of the two miles of total trail length on the property.

Once off this hill climb and onto the more scenic Wetland Trail, hikers and walkers get peek-a-boo views of acres wetland and bird habitat. Ducks, herons, geese and other birds are common sights along the way. However, keep in mind that this trail is closed until the end of July to avoid stressing ospreys nesting along the trail.

One charming touch added to the hike are the Rubbermaid tubs left at intervals containing First Aid equipment. In creating the trails, Chuck Pettis seems to have thought of everything.

Some of the most striking walking at Earth Sanctuary involves frequent stops. Earth Sanctuary has a number of sacred spaces built in and amongst the natural surroundings. At the south eastern end of the property, in the middle of the Fen Stone Circle trail, is a circle of stone obelisks. In the northwest corner of the property, is a recreation of an ancient stone dolmen, a stone structure made of huge slabs of rock. Nearby is a walking labyrinth and, on the shore of the Fen Pond, is the labyrinth-like Cottonwood Stone Circle.

Whether or not these stops inspire any spiritual awakenings in visitors, they are striking things to see in the midst of of a good walk.

Going further: Since Earth Sanctuary is a comparatively quick hike, it’s a good idea to plan a visit to any one of South Whidbey’s other trail areas, just to fill out a morning or an afternoon.

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