Nearby Willow Lake a botanical special interest area
|Alpine Laurel, one of many wildflowers that bloom each summer. ||Fall colors begin to envelop Willow Lake, a Botanical Special Interest Area in the Lassen National Forest. Photo by Susan Cort Johnson|
|English Sundew curled around insect prey, a species rare to California found at Willow Lake. Left side photos by Kirsten Bovee, Lassen National Forest assistant forest botanist ||The Willow Lake Fen consists of floating mats of sphagnum moss that supports a variety of unusual plants. Photo by Susan Cort Johnson|
Sept. 28, 2013 — Those who work for the U.S. Forest Service are very familiar with the public lands that surround us and know the multitude of special places accessible to people who live in or visit the area. Willow Lake, about 12 miles northwest of Chester in the Lassen National Forest, is such a place.
“It’s an amazing little lake. When the wildflowers are out it is spectacular,” said Melissa Hennessey, a fire prevention officer with the U.S. Forest Service at the Almanor Ranger District.
It is designated a Botanical Special Interest Area because of the floating mats of sphagnum moss along its western shores which are at least two feet thick. With no mineral soil the mats are a type of wet meadow called a fen.
According to Hennessey a fen is different from a bog because it is created by groundwater versus rainfall. However the term bog is frequently used when describing the terrain at Willow Lake.
The floating mats support many unusual plants, some of which typically grow in arctic and subarctic climates. Many of the plants are rare in California, therefore visitors to the lake are advised not to walk on the fen. The small lake can easily be navigated by kayak or canoe or explored by foot along the east and north shores.
Although wildflowers bloom during the summer, the area is still captivating in fall colors. It is surrounded by thick forests of Red Fir, White Fir, Sugar Pine, Jeffrey Pine and Lodgepole Pine. A hiking trail on the north side of the lake leads to Terminal Geyser in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Visitors can use the undeveloped campsites along the shore to spend the night. There is one outdoor vault toilet at Willow Lake and a bear-proof garbage dumpster.
The best time to visit for wildflower viewing is July and August. The site would be a good one to place on a “must explore” list for next summer. A list of the plants that grow at Willow Lake is available at the Almanor Ranger District Office located at 900 E Highway 36.
Two species of carnivorous plants grow at the lake. They are English Sundew and Roundleaf Sundew. Sticky glands on the leaf of the plants catch small insects and digest them with enzymes, according to the description of these species on the list. Other fen species include pink-flowered American Laurel, Douglas Spiraea, a shrub of the rose family, yellow Primrose Monkeyflowers and Tofieldia, a plant with white flowers. These are just a few of the species that grow at Willow Lake.
American Scheuchzerla was discovered at Willow Lake in 1988, which was thought to be extinct in California. Before its rediscovery it was believed the remaining plants in the area had been submerged when Lake Almanor was created.
According to Hennessey, the meadows west of the lake are brilliant green in the spring. She said the color is so vibrant you almost need sunglasses to view the scenery.
To access Willow Lake take County Road 318 off Highway 36 in Chester signed for Lassen Volcanic National Park. Turn left on County Road 312 driving about 5 miles to a road fork, taking the left fork which is County Road 311. The signage is for Domingo Springs with the right fork signage for Warner Valley and Drakesbad. Drive about 1 mile and turn right on Forest Road 29N14. From this point it is about 3.5 miles to Willow Lake and a portion of the road is rough, rocky and narrow with brush close to the roadway.
Another option is to access Willow Lake via mountain bike. The Lassen National Forest Almanor Ranger District suggests cyclists start from County Road 312 just west of the High Bridge Campground. The ride is about 4 miles one way and designated as moderate.
The U.S. Forest Service advises visitors to Willow Lake to tread lightly in the area and not disturb the habitat.
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