On May 23, 1991, the town of Forks was closed, many businesses, except city offices and banks, locked up as most residents traveled to Olympia to take part in a rally protesting critical habitat protections for the northern spotted owl.
In the years that followed and as the timber industry became vilified, many left the industry, but those remaining wanted to get the message out about who the timber industry was and what loggers really did.
Diane Schostak remembers early days at the Visitors Center when people would keep the motor running while they ran in for a ferry schedule or just stop long enough to complain about the logging along the highway.
In an effort to get the story out about what logging and milling really were about, the Forks Chamber of Commerce soon created a logging and mill tour.
Diane recalls Bonnie Anderson and Bob Huelsdonk being instrumental in getting the project going and Jerry Lane at Allen’s was very supportive.
I originally went on the tour in September 1994 and I went again last week.
Wednesday, May 28, was the first official trip of the chamber’s logging and mill tour for the summer season.
When I got to the Visitors Center there were four other real tourists signed up for the three-hour tour for that day. They were from Delaware, Hawaii, California and Tacoma.
Our guide for the day was Joe Seymour. As we took off south in the tour van he explained the cutting schedule and how many times areas along the road had been harvested. He explained “it’s our corn crop, we just don’t cut it down every year.”
Joe also recited some poetry and broke in to song, but I won’t get in to that part.
He explained the different species of trees and how much rain the area gets. He told a bit of history about the spruce harvesting in World War I and the Spruce Railroad.
We passed the cranberry bog and over the Hoh Bridge and we had arrived at Allen Logging. A quick stop inside for earplugs and the group was full of questions, and the mill was noisy. The last tour I was on a lot of the machines were idle. Joe explained how nothing goes to waste at the mill. We watched logs turn in to boards and learned about the drying process and watched a chip truck get loaded. Joe deputized me as an honorary guide telling me to keep an eye on the tourists, explaining that they get so interested in things they get behind. He likened it to “herding cats.”
Back in the van we headed toward Nolan Creek to find some logging. As we drove down the logging road I asked who had seen “Ax Men” and they all said they had never seen the show. Joe and I both said “good.” It took a while but Joe finally found the group some logging. Out of the van we donned orange vests and hard hats, something that was not part of the tour the last time I went.
The group watched the logs being cut to length, they marveled at the expertise of the machine operators sorting and stacking the logs. We also got to watch a road change. There was one choker setter in a white hard hat that really impressed the group — he was really moving as he set chokers.
The unit that we parked next to recently had been planted so Joe had an opportunity to explain that side of the business, too.
As we watched the logging operation, Joe told the group, “Logging, it was the best job I ever had.”
Back at the Visitors Center the tourists all agreed they had a great time. Ray from California said it was so great to see the milling in person and not on a documentary.
I personally think the world would be a much better place if everyone had the opportunity to meet a logger, the guy that does the dirty work so others can go to The Home Depot and buy a 2 by 4.
The bottom line is that fewer and fewer people are working in the timber industry. With the logging and mill tour The Forks Chamber of Commerce is just reminding everyone that our community and the people that built it had their collective roots in the harvest of timber.
The logging and mill tour is not just for tourists and anyone can go. They do suggest reservations because space is limited.
The tours leave each Wednesday at 9 a.m. from the Visitors Center and lasts about three hours. The tour is free but donations are accepted. To make reservations or for questions, call 374-2531.