It’s not as easy to hike logging company land as it once was. But if you get access there are gems to be discovered.
One Friday morning I drove Sophia up Pittsburg Road for a walk in the woods. Way up the ridge (long after the road goes to gravel) we turned left onto Camp 9 Road, which snakes through a mosaic of Weyerhaeuser, John Hancock, Rayonier Washington, and BLM land. We parked our car at the intersection of Camp 9 and Wilark and I got my little one out of her carseat. A vehicle permit sat on the dash – this is Weyerhaeuser land.
In 2013, Weyerhaeuser made a massive acquisition from Longview Fiber, giving it about a third of all forest lands in Columbia County (well over 100,000 acres). These once publicly accessible lands were now restricted to those who paid for annual permits. Weyerhaeuser allows limited motorized access to 639 individuals (charging $325 per permit) and non-motorized access to 550 individuals (charging $125 per permit). I’ve bought this permit the last two years.
Sophia and I started out hiking on Wilark, then veered off onto a less established road. The tall narrow trees and limited undergrowth suggested a cut of perhaps 30 years old, the minimum age at which forest hiking becomes pleasant. Sophia happened upon an Oregon Forestsnail with excitement, “Look, an animal! A ‘nail!”
Just 200 yards off the main road (at the boundary between Weyerhaeuser land and John Hancock), we stumbled up to a very old cemetery.
Some of my own ancestors are buried in ancient forest graveyards, but I never expected to find such a site by surprise. With caution and reverence I walked through the entrance. The trail made a small circle within the fenced premises, but only a few gravestones could be seen. Two were too rough and weather-worn to hold marks, but the third had the names and dates of those who lay beneath.
Later I found that the true name of this sacred spot is “St. Joseph Polish Catholic Cemetery”. The land had been deeded in 1891 to five immigrant families so they could build a church, school, and graveyard. The first body interned there was a young man killed by a falling tree near the intersection of Pittsburg and Gensmen, just a stone’s throw from where I live today.
Over the next fifteen years at least seven adults of the Rambalski, Wilverding, Grinka, Karth, DuPont, and Osmailowski families were buried there, along with “many children”. Today only Caroline Karth of Germany and her 15-year-old grandson Henry Grinka still have their resting place marked by name. In 1899 a fire destroyed the church and school and they were not rebuilt, but new gravesites continued to be added until at least 1905.
Sophia and I continued on along the trail, descending a small hill into an interesting forest marsh where we found several species of amphibians. The woods were quiet. Sometimes we walked hand-in-hand, sometimes she ran ahead, sometimes I carried her in front with her arms wrapped warmly around my neck and sometimes she sat on my shoulders. It was a magical time for us both.
We returned as we had come, gazing upon the cemetery again on our way out. Sophia and I followed Camp 9 Road south until reaching a small viewpoint through the trees. In the distance the Coast Range rose up before us.
We took in the view, then returned to our car, happy with our time.
Wilark Pioneer Cemetery at a glance
What: historical site, hiking, wildlife viewing
Where: This route is well onto the gravel portion of Pittsburg Road, where nearly all intersections are unmarked and cell phone service is unavailable. Before attempting for the first time, be sure to bring a map as well as GPS navigation that does not rely on a cell phone signal.
From St. Helens, go north to Pittsburg Road and then head east for 17.3 miles until reaching the unmarked Camp 9 Road. Follow for 0.8 miles until the intersection with unmarked Wilark Road. The small dirt road that leads to Wilark Pioneer Cemetery is 70 yards down Wilark Road at about 45.8873, -123.0332. Follow this road 200 yards northwest into the forest until reaching the cemetery at 45.8877, -123.0316.
Alternatively, you may be able to turn left (south) on Wilark Road at about 13.7 miles down Pittsburg Road, following it 2 miles until the road is blocked, then getting out and walking a few hundred yards until reaching the dirt road that leads to Wilark Pioneer Cemetery. However I have not tried this route myself.
Pittsburg Road to Camp 9 Road can also be approached easily from Scappoose-Vernonia Highway at the Vernonia end.
Hiking: numerous logging roads throughout the area
Notable Wildlife: Mountain Quail, Sooty Grouse, upland songbirds including flycatchers, warblers, and vireos, woodland and marsh amphibians
Property status: Weyerhaeuser and John Hancock – must purchase a Weyerhaeuser permit in order to walk onto that land