by Garrett Dalan, WA Coast Conservation Coordinator
Three turns and three miles is all it takes to get from Highway 12, through the City of Montesano, to Lake Sylvia State Park. Originally homesteaded in 1868, Lake Sylvia is rich in history and always has been a part of the Montesano Community.
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The Laurk family settled near the natural lake above a small falls nearly 150 years ago and established a water powered saw mill. Shortly after 1900, a small hydroelectric dam (which may have been the first woman-operated power plant in the United States) was built at the falls to provide water and electricity for the growing city. A more “modern” mill was then established below the dam, and still today day-hikers can find old massive saw blades and elevated railroad structures along the lower trail on the east side of the creek.
The power house was dismantled decades ago, but a small dam remains (the natural falls were likely a fish barrier prior to the dam being built), keeping Lake Sylvia at its current size allowing for swimming, boating, paddle-boarding and fishing. After the City of Montesano donated the land to the State Parks Commission in 1936, Lake Sylvia’s post-industrial life has now served as a recreation hub for generations. Gone are the Lake Sylvia Store, swimming lessons and knee-to-elbow bathing suits. What remains is still a treasure.
It seems fitting that the first thing the road leads you to after entering the State Park is a Y in the road – choices to make. To the left: boat launch, beach, swimming area, playground, fishing dock and trailheads. To the right: picnic shelter, campground, ranger office, another fishing dock and more trailheads. When combined with the surrounding City Forest, Lake Sylvia is the base for a fantastic network of trails. Considering the loops and trail intersections, the options are nearly endless. Stroll on a gravel path, get a little muddy walking to a covered bridge or go for a dozen miles through an active forest.
In my time at Lake Sylvia, I have hiked alone and with 8 kids, fished from a boat and from shore, watched ducks, geese, salamanders and deer, and discovered things long abandoned like a 5-foot circular blade and moss covered horseshoe pits. I even set up an office on one wonderfully sunny spring day. See what Lake Sylvia can offer you, it’s only three turns and three miles.