Beside the Grays Harbor College campus lies an unsuspecting patch of forest. Concealed within these towering trees is the peaceful and serene Lake Swano, a lovely spot nestled in the Alder Creek watershed.
In the decades following its formation, Lake Swano inspired various educational and recreational interests. Grays Harbor College purchased the lake in 1962, and immediately put plans for trail development into place. These plans would not come to fruition for some time, however.
Alder Creek became an area of interest for the college’s fisheries program. As a result, the John M. Smith Aquaculture Center was constructed in 1987, and it was not until after its completion that the first trail was developed. This trail was installed for interpreting fish habitat. Swiftly following its development, steps to the lake were built beside the 800 Building, and a loop trail completed around the lake.
The forest surrounding Lake Swano is second growth and serves as an example of a healing watershed. Throughout the area, various clues to techniques of both current and historical practices in forest management present themselves. The watershed is an invaluable educational tool for the Grays Harbor community.
The watershed is host to an abundance of local plant and animal life. The biological diversity of the area inspired the development of an interpretive curriculum that eventually manifested as interpretive trail signs. These beautifully illustrated signs are the work of graphic artist Amy Ostwald of Elma.
Not only does each sign detail the natural resources of the area, and the flora and fauna who call the watershed home, but each sign also includes excerpts from the poetry of Northwest poet and former Grays Harbor College professor Dr. Harold Enrico. Dr. Enrico’s words are knowledgeable and enchanting. His poetry, set alongside scientific nuggets of information, makes for an intimate and enlightening experience along the trail. The interpretive signs also include some historical background on the area, including a description of Swano’s homestead (of which the steps remain and are still visible along the trail) and information on the Lower Chehalis tribe.
Today, the trail around Lake Swano is a popular destination for the Grays Harbor community. It has been the site of organized runs and employee fitness challenges. It is a gentle, well-developed loop trail of around 1.4 miles. It is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a quiet area to hike or jog. Leashed dogs are also welcome to enjoy the scenery.
The trail is wheelchair accessible and kid-friendly. There are five main trailheads, and parking can be found on the lower lots of the Grays Harbor College campus. Lake Swano Trail itself is a simple loop around the lake, but it is also a gateway to other trails through the forest, including the Poggie Trail, Coastal Forest Trail, Nice Creek Trail, and Alder Creek Trail. Large maps are located at the trailheads showing the location of these alternate routes.
The grounds crew at Grays Harbor College currently has “Use at Own Risk” signs in place along the trail. Particularly during our rainiest months, the trails can be slick and muddy, so please exercise caution when exploring this beautiful piece of Aberdeen.