Envision wandering deep into the woods, where the air is fresh and cool and the only noise you hear is the rustling of leaves and the twitter of birds overhead. Imagine finding a place all your own to explore, relax and meditate, far from the noises and distractions of your busy, routine life.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in Centralia, then you don’t need to envision it – because the Seminary Hill Natural Area is sitting in your own backyard.

The Seminary Hill Natural Area has been a jewel on Centralia’s east side since the 1980s, when the non-profit organization Friends of Seminary Hill Natural Area stepped in to preserve the 72-acre land from logging. The group’s mission to: “Protect, preserve and maintain the Seminary Hill Natural area in its natural state for the enjoyment of all.” They commit to their mission of conservation by offering guided nature walks, public events and providing written information on the ecology of the area.

President and native Lewis County resident, Brian Mittge cannot empathize enough the wonder and gratitude he has for living near such a hidden gem.

“It felt like my own private property,” said Mittge. “It can be your own private woods.”

Seminary Hill Centralia
Seminary Hill Natural Area is a public forest area open to all. It is owned by the City of Centralia and maintained by the Friends of Seminary Hill Natural Area. Photo credit: Marissa Dykman

By joining the Friends of the Seminary Hill Natural Area, you can band with like-minded volunteers and feel the pride of ownership by helping to preserve the land for years to come. The group is more action than talk, only hosting one meeting at the beginning of the year, and the spending the rest out on the trails working and educating about wildlife.

“If we’re going to have nice things in the world, we have to take care and maintain them for the next generation,” said Mittge.

In fact, Mittge’s title as president of the Friends of Seminary Hill Natural Area is a torch passed down by the founding president, the late Sandy Godsey. Godsey, among hundreds of other diligent workers from years past, have fought to keep Seminary Hill Natural Area a mainstay in Lewis County.

Without the members of Seminary Hill Natural Area, past and present, along with the hundreds of volunteers and organizations, such as the City of Centralia, The Chehalis River Basin Land Trust, Lewis County Trails and others, the resources and beauty of Seminary Hill would be vastly underutilized.

“I have a lot of respect for those who have come before me,” said Mittge.

For volunteers ready to get their hands dirty and maintain Seminary Hill Natural Area, there is always plenty of work to do! Fighting off invasive species, such as ivy, laurel and holly is an ongoing battle, and trained volunteers are welcome to join the fight and keep it at bay. Volunteers can also keep the 2.5 miles of trails clear of logs and other debris, and ensure that every trail is safe for the public.

“We provide ways for people to engage with the public property,” said Mittge.

Seminary Hill Natural Area
The 2.5 miles of trails on Seminary Hill are a great place to walk, meditate or exercise. Photo credit: Marissa Dykman

In addition to preserving the natural area, The Friends also plan events to get people on the hill to learn about and enjoy the nature.

Thanks to the Bethel School of the Arts, the public can engage with nature through arts and music. At Art on the Hill, hosted by Amy Mumford, participants hunt for creative and inspiring things as they walk along the trail, channeling that natural inspiration into art. At Music on the Hill, wanderers can enjoy the music of many different artists dispersed throughout the trail.

Voracious learners are also welcome to join Centralia College professor Dr. Lisa Carlson on her wildflower walks as she shares her knowledge of the many wildflowers and plants found on Seminary Hill. You can also pick up a copy of local bird experts Henry and Leah Wegener’s bird-watching guide and make a day out of discovering new bird species on the hill.

The trail has been an invaluable resource to the students at neighboring Washington Elementary School, where teacher Joe Mano leads the Ecology Club through nature walks and teaches them about their own (literal) backyard. With permission, children are welcome to pull up the invasive ivy, and often have contests to see who can remove the biggest piece.

“It’s a remarkable resource and treasure that Centralia has,” said Mittge

Clean-up and trail preservation takes place year round, but the biggest event is held the Saturday before Earth Day, where 20 to 40 volunteers gather to get the hill looking pristine for the summer season. Because the natural area is publicly owned, anyone can take initiative and fix up the land, as long as it’s safe to the wildlife and the guests.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Mittge, when referring to what visitors could do to improve and beautify the natural area.

A family destination, there is always something to explore, whether you’re 2 or 90. Thanks to the City of Centralia, the parking lot and trail entrance at the end of Barner Drive has undergone its own beautification process, and now has a covered picnic area for family outings. Along the trails, the large cathedral trees make the forest 10 degrees cooler during the summers, making it the perfect getaway after shopping in nearby downtown Centralia.

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Recently, The City of Centralia acquired the parking lot space on Barner Drive, creating a utility building and a shaded picnic area. Photo credit: Marissa Dykman

“It’s nature’s air conditioning,” joked Mittge, who used to live near downtown Centralia and enjoyed the convenience of having the woods nearby.

Trails vary in elevation, so whether you choose to jog the trails, or explore with your children, there is always a right path for the right person. For steep trails, however, it is advised that you carry a hiking stick to maintain your balance.

Speaking of paths, Mittge would like to encourage everyone to find a project their passion about, on or off the hill, and commit to doing it for the good of the next generation.

“You should find something you enjoy and value, and pass it on to the next generation. Find something and immerse yourself in it,” said Mittge.

From 8:00 a.m. to dusk, the park is open for the public to enjoy and appreciate. Bring sturdy walking shoes, a water bottle and litter bags to pick up after your pets, but please leave alcohol, tobacco and bicycles at home. Don’t forget to bring your friends, family or group along to marvel at the grandeur of Seminary Hill and its diverse ecology.

For more information on trails, directions, events, or volunteering with the Friends of Seminary Hill Natural Area, please visit their Facebook page.

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