Revisiting 18 Standout Trail Projects from 2016
Looking back on an amazing year of volunteer trail work--partnerships, preservation and unearthing lost trails.
Written by Anna Roth
Every year, WTA tackles hundreds of trail projects around the state. Thanks to our agency partners, we work to ensure Washington’s trails are open and navigable. Thousands of volunteers lift tools, carry rocks and work together to make sure visitors can enjoy their favorite trails.
Each trail we work on is important, but the projects featured here showcase efforts we’re especially proud of: finding lost trails, fixing trails damaged by storms or thundering feet, preserving our national parks for the next 100 years, breaking new ground, and strengthening and creating partnerships.
Finding lost trails
Have you ever rounded a corner on a hike only to see the trail peter out in thick brush or a blowdown? Maybe you’ve seen your route continue on the other side of a raging river—with no safe way across. If so, you’ve hiked on a “lost trail,” a path that’s fallen victim to neglect or lack of funding. WTA restored several lost trails in 2016.
One of these was the Klickitat Trail, a former Native American trading route off U.S. Highway 12 that boasts a long hike through wild scenery. Unfortunately, the trail had been rendered impassable due to brush and blowdown over many seasons of neglect. This year, we partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and a WTA youth crew spent a week here. The youth volunteers rerouted the trail around the blowdown and brushed out alder and salmonberries. Now, hikers can once again enjoy the same route Native Americans did for over 1,000 years.
Trails buried in brush and downed trees aren’t unique to remote areas. The South Fork Cascade Trail is near the extremely popular Cascade Pass Trail, but it was hit by the Mineral Park Fire of 2003 and was closed until recent efforts by WTA, the Forest Service and other volunteer organizations helped reopen a section of it. While the trail hasn’t yet been entirely reopened, the remarkable work that 24 WTA volunteers did in just three days this year created a brush-free riverside hike that provides solitude and a reprieve from the crowds heading up to Cascade Pass.
Fixing damaged trails
Close to urban areas, visitors of all sorts create a big impact by their sheer numbers. Weather can cause similar damage in one season. Winter storms knock down trees scorched from previous summers’ burns, and rains erode trails built long ago. From a tranquil lake an hour outside of Seattle to a remote path into wilderness two hours north of Spokane, WTA shapes popular and windswept routes to sustainable standards, so future generations of hikers can continue to enjoy them.
This year, WTA and the Washington Department of Natural Resources worked on the Chirico Trail on Tiger Mountain and Oyster Dome on Chuckanut Mountain. Both trails originated from hikers opting for the shortest route to a view—straight up the hill. But these are popular locations, and thousands of visitors caused erosion, making the trail unsafe and inhospitable to vegetation. WTA developed switchbacks, encouraging hikers to take a more sustainable route to the summit.
Talapus Lake and Barclay Lake, also very popular trails, are excellent first-time trails for families introducing their kids to hiking. But because of their proximity to the Puget Sound area, they see hundreds of visitors each weekend. In partnership with the Forest Service, WTA improved the entire length of the 2-mile Barclay Lake Trail over the summer, and the Talapus Lake Trail started to receive help from volunteers in August and September.
Social media has an effect on visitation too. With the help of the Forest Service, we held two Volunteer Vacations this summer to continue repairs to the Instagram-famous Colchuck Lake. As at Chirico and Oyster Dome, the goal was to make the trail more sustainable, so future hikers could enjoy the sapphire blue waters of the lake. Here, that meant installing a whopping 59 rock steps to prevent erosion!
On the remote Colville National Forest, it’s not summer swarms but seasonal storms that seriously damage trails. The North Fork Sullivan Trail in the Colville National Forest provides hikers and horses access to miles of play in this remote area, but rough winters had buckled a crucial bridge, making the trail impassable. The trail also passed through a wetland, so the Forest Service asked WTA, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association and Back Country Horsemen to remove the bridge and reroute the trail. The repairs are still in progress, but the decision has the double benefit of making the area a better habitat for native plants and animals and creating a more sustainable trail.
Out on the Olympic Peninsula, we continued our work with the Forest Service on the Duckabush Trail, one of WTA’s longest-running project sites. Here, fire-damaged trees from a blaze in 2011 regularly blow down, blocking and damaging the trail. We clear this trail annually, but in 2016, volunteers also spent 18 days building a sturdy rock wall on a slumping section. A staggering 20 feet high, 10 feet long and 3 feet wide, the wall offered not only an opportunity for volunteers to hone their rock-building skills but also provided a permanent fix for this popular trail that offers first-time and seasoned visitors access to Olympic National Park.
Preserving our national parks
For many people, our national parks provide a first encounter with nature, inspiring a lifetime of love for the outdoors. Clearing the way to these places, so anyone and everyone can spark their connection to nature, is one of WTA’s central goals.
Ringed by Olympic National Forest and accessed by trails like the Duckabush, Olympic National Park can be tricky to access for day work parties. That’s why backcountry trips are the name of the game here. This summer, our work in the park included five Backcountry Response Teams, a Volunteer Vacation at Kalaloch and a two-week extended Youth Volunteer Vacation at the Hoh River Trail. For 15 days, the 11-person youth crew worked on the trail out of Five Mile Camp, clearing drains, brushing and replacing decking on two puncheons and building a third. The trail accesses sights like stunning Blue Glacier and is an extremely popular overnight destination. Thanks to the youth crew, hikers can enjoy the trail and view the vivid glacier with dry feet for years to come. (See story, Page 13.)
Halfway across the state and more accessible to day hikers, Mount Rainier National Park hosts nearly 2 million people each year. Lots of visitors means lots of work, so WTA hosted Volunteer Vacations and day work parties all around the mountain, working especially on the increasingly popular Wonderland Trail—to the tune of 373 volunteers and 5,236 hours of work during more than 40 days. We installed a new bridge and completed some much-needed tread work near Glacier Basin, constructed a rock wall near Summerland and Fryingpan Creek and redug tread and installed a rock turnpike near the Carbon River Trail.
Meanwhile, up in North Cascades National Park, we hosted another BCRT at Fisher Creek, continuing a three-year commitment to improving this long trail into Washington’s most remote, but still heavily visited, national park.
Breaking new ground
The stunning mountain views, mysterious rain forests and riots of wildflowers typical of Washington’s national parks are compelling, but they’re not the only way a budding hiker can connect to nature. Sometimes a local green space can provide that connection. But you have to build the trail in order for hikers to come.
In Sammamish, WTA built a new, 1-mile ADA-accessible gravel trail at Beaver Lake Preserve. The trail winds through cool, second-growth forest near Lake Sammamish, just 20 minutes outside of Seattle. Similarly, we finished an ADA-accessible trail near Vancouver Lake with the help of Clark County Parks. This new trail offers a 2.5 mile wander through the cottonwood forest west of Vancouver Lake, a fantastic respite just a few minutes from Vancouver.
Farther north, we worked with Skagit Land Trust and Skagit County Parks to complete the John Tursi Trail, connecting Deception Pass State Park with the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. WTA volunteers helped our partners create a larger network of trail options for visitors to this area, made possible in part by a generous donation from Tursi’s estate.
Strengthening and creating partnerships
Partnerships allow WTA to increase our reach and realize goals that could happen only with cooperation between agencies and organizations. In April, we extended a glove to the sixth national forest in Washington—the Umatilla, in the southeastern corner of the state. A BCRT in the Blue Mountains helped kick off our summer season, where we cleared the Panjab Trail of 150 logs. This project was completed by 12 volunteers who achieved in four days what may have taken weeks for a small national forest trail crew that’s responsible for an entire district. Since the project’s completion, several trip reporters have ventured into the Blues, and many have returned thankful for the newly cleared trail.
We also worked closer than ever with Mount St. Helens Institute in 2016. Thanks to a shared position created by WTA and MSHI, we hired Layla Farahbakhsh, who led trail maintenance crews and represented WTA at outreach events in Southwest Washington. With her help, we were able to triple the amount of work we could do around the volcano, where the trails are popular but notoriously hard to get to and often see less maintenance than they need.
WTA is also pleased to continue our partnership with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Mountains to Sound Greenway (with support from REI) on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Trail, preparing it for the thousands of feet expected to visit annually upon completion of the road-paving project in summer 2017.
WTA ensures that the trails you love will be there for years to come. But we couldn’t do it without you. Whether you’ve written a Trip Report, joined us on a work party or received this magazine because of your membership, we thank you for your role in helping us achieve our goals. We can’t wait to see what we accomplish together next year.
This article originally appeared in the Nov+Dec 2016 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.