Down a peaceful side trail at Northwest Trek, just past the zipline, a tiny door is just visible in the grass. Silver-spattered with a curtain of moss, it shimmers under the nettle leaves like a mirage.
No, you’re not imagining things. It’s a fairy house, and there are twenty more dotted along the same trail – just keep your eyes open.
“I was inspired by a ‘gnome trail’ I hiked recently with my family,” says Rick Dietz, Northwest Trek’s Deputy Director. “I thought it would be a fun way to add some excitement to our trails and encourage people to explore them more.”
Luring kids out away from their screens and into nature via whimsical creations like a fairy trail has definitely worked elsewhere in the region – the Fairy Trail in Black Diamond and the Gnomes Trail in Maple Valley, both within an hour of Northwest Trek, have become popular thanks to local blog coverage.
And the Trek Fairy Trail does make for a fun mini-hike, especially with kids. Turn right at the fairy poem signpost just past the Zip Wild entrance and keep your eyes peeled: a circular silver house like a mossy face, a half-A-frame with tiny chimney on top, a six-inch-high arbor with decorative pebbles on top, an upside-down flowerpot covered in stones topped with a tiny succulent garden inside a nest.
Some houses sit on the ground; others are partway up tree trunks. Some are pink, purple or yellow but most blend with the Northwest forest – as you’d expect a fairy would. There are fairy swings, fairy patios, fairy wishing wells and fairy tic-tac-toe tables. All are delicately adorable, perfect for igniting young imaginations.
“We have a wonderful nature trail system, and would love to see more people out experiencing the environment,” says Trek naturalist Gabby Huffman, who spent painstaking hours last winter building the houses with sticks, stones, bark and a hot glue gun.
See nature differently
But fairy trails do more than just get folks out on trails. Art in parks has a long history, and transforms the way you look at nature into something more deliberate and focused. If you’re looking for art, then looking AT art, you’re not just hiking – you’re looking at nature with intention, noticing details you would otherwise take for granted and appreciating the natural symmetry and beauty of twigs, leaves, bark.
And if the art in question is also small – as fairy houses tend to be – then you experience a transformation of scale. Suddenly you’re seeing the forest from a four-inch point of view, which leads to greater empathy with real creatures who experience the forest this way all the time – mice, birds, snakes, toads – and the challenges they face to survive.
But mostly, it’s just another fun way to explore Northwest Trek. So when you’ve met our animals and gotten your adrenaline rush on the zipline, find the Trek Fairy Trail and take your imagination for a hike.
–Rosemary Ponnekanti, Northwest Trek