Hwy 508 runs east-west through Lewis County, Washington, winding through hills and valleys and even an intriguingly-named “Bear Canyon”. Along the way, part of it parallels the Tilton River, named for a territorial surveyor, James Tilton.
At milepost 27, look to the north and don’t blink! You will literally miss the turn off for Tilton River State Park. It is simply a pull-off on the side of the road with room for two, maybe three cars. No road signs, no ranger booth, no port-a-potty.
You have to get out of your car and face north and then at the start of the trail, off to your left, you will see a plaque on a rock noting that the land was donated in 1994 to the State of Washington by twin brothers, William and Otto Studhalter.
The Studhalter boys were somewhat influential in the Morton area. Born in 1901 in Tacoma, sons of a Swiss father and German mother, the whole family moved to Bremer, eight miles west of Morton, when the boys were young. The twins were loggers as well as owners of a sawmill where ties were cut for the army in WWII. They donated an old steam donkey (a steam-driven winch for logging) that had been used around 1918 for the annual Morton Logger’s Jubilee. This steam donkey can be seen today in Gust Backstrom Park in the town of Morton. There is also a Studhalter Road a few miles west of the park.
William died in 1993 and Otto followed in 1997. Otto donated the 110 acres to the State of Washington for use as a state park. Later, six more adjoining acres were bought to add to the donation.
By now, you would like to see the rest of the “park” and the river. Just take a walk down the fairly well-defined trail for about ¼ mile. Careful, there are small obstacles such as tree roots. But when you reach the end of the trail and emerge from the canopy of firs, red cedar, maple, and Oregon Ash, you will see a scene right out of an old TV show – a simple rocky beach, a twisting, lazy river (known as “The Studhalter Fishing Hole”, and handmade fire pits. A beautiful place for picnics, relaxing , fishing or watching the kids play in the water. Very serene and peaceful.
But enjoy it while you can. According to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, they have decided not to further develop the park and are planning to either sell it or have another agency take over management of the land. A place that holds summertime memories for many local residents could be closed down or built up. But maybe, just maybe, the new owners will honor the last intentions of the Studhalter brothers, and leave the property as is, accessible and natural, for future generations of families to enjoy.
Getting there: From north or southbound on Interstate 5, take exit 71 and head east to milepost 27.