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How Kitsap County Volunteers Are Building Up Their Trails

Posted by tiffanyc at May 17, 2022 08:27 AM |

Over the last few years, volunteers, including volunteer crew leaders, have accomplished a lot of work to give hikers and other trail users improved opportunities to get outside in Kitsap County. Two of those volunteers, Patrick and Marji Sullivan, have become integral in the Kitsap County trail work community and are helping expand access to public green spaces in the area.

Over the last few years, volunteers, including volunteer crew leaders, have accomplished a lot of work to give hikers and other trail users improved opportunities to get outside in Kitsap County. 

Two of those volunteers, Patrick and Marji Sullivan, have become integral in the Kitsap County trail work community and are helping expand access to public green spaces in the area. Volunteer crew leaders, like Patrick and Marji, helped WTA get more work done all across the state. In Kitsap County, many of the projects have greatly supported Washington Trails Association’s Trail Next Door campaign.

Patrick and Marji Sullivan at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park.
Patrick and Marji Sullivan leading trail work at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park. Photos by Patrick and Marji Sullivan.

Patrick and Marji are proudest of their work at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park, a 3,493-acre site, which was a former sawmill and timberland but is now a public park. One of their biggest achievements in the park was building a trail for both hikers and mountain bikers, completely from scratch. 

“It was just a fun, long, great project. And we’ve gotten so much positive feedback, from bikers and hikers using it,” Marji said. Patrick said this is a big deal because hikers and bikers often want different things, like how corners should be built on trails. “To have them be positive about it was, I felt like, a great accomplishment.”

Another of the projects Patrick and Marji especially love is the Guillemot Cove Nature Preserve, home to the locally-famous Stump House. As a nature preserve in a wetland, Guillemot Cove is a very different experience for Patrick; much of his work has been in forests. Marji calls the area “magical,” with its massive maple trees and views of the Olympic mountains. Beavers inhabit the area, and build dams that wash out every year. As a result, the stream gets totally rerouted regularly. The last time she was out there, Marji counted nine beaver dams on the stream. This often floods the trails in different ways, resulting in interesting and ever-changing trail work.

The work that Patrick, Marji and the Kitsap County trail work community have done supports WTA’s Trail Next Door campaign. Many of the projects are for county parks, generally easily accessible by the public without driving far. Their oft-visited project at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park, for instance, is only 15 minutes away from Patrick and Marji. Patrick said the community has really stepped up to help out at the local parks because the county doesn’t always have the resources to do a lot of work on them. 

Volunteers building a new trail at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park
Volunteers building a new trail at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park. Photo by Patrick Sullivan. 

Drainage can be a major issue on trails, as water can cause heavy erosion, resulting in wash outs or the creation of social trails as hikers navigate around wet areas. Several projects in Kitsap County have focused on drainage to avoid these issues in the future and make it easier to rebuild trails that need care. Patrick has heard feedback from trail users that some of the drainage efforts he worked on held up well over the winter. 

It’s clear that the community of trail work volunteers has been vital to the progress of these projects. Marji spoke to the dedication and resilience of the volunteers they work with. 

“They work hard, they work really hard,” she said. 

She recalled a project in which volunteers had to take on the difficult task of digging out large stumps by hand. The volunteers were incredibly engaged with the project, even in the cold winter in an exposed clearcut area. 

“They got on their stump, their piece, and they just got attached and went after it,” she said. “I mean, I was impressed.” 

The volunteers consistently have a lot of enthusiasm for the work they do. Even though trail work parties were more complicated near the beginning of the pandemic, Patrick said people were grateful for the chance to get outside and do something productive, and did a great job adhering to the new policies and procedures like masking and social distancing. 

Beyond the pandemic, many volunteers are happy to have found something to do during the winter, when many outdoor activities are less accessible. He often gets asked when the next work parties are by volunteers. The eagerness and commitment of the volunteers keeps him going, and encourages him to do more.

Although there is a strong core group of volunteers, Marji said that newcomers also feel welcome. She’s particularly excited about the number of women she sees out on the trail. 

“There are a lot of people who tell us, ‘Wow, there are a lot of women out here who have leadership positions,’” Marji said. “Sometimes, we don’t see that; we’re one of few women. And out here, there are women leading.”

Repairing a collapsed bridge at Dosewallips State Park.
Volunteers taking apart a broken bridge at Dosewallips State Park. Photo by Marji Sullivan. 

Volunteer assistant crew leaders — or orange hats — have also been important to work in the area. They help crew leaders scout out complicated trails or step in when needed. Marji said she’s been able to take on larger projects at Dosewallips State Park largely because of the support she’s been able to get from the volunteer leaders. 

“We would not have accomplished this [work] without them,” Patrick said. “If we didn’t have them participating, we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Alan Carter Mortimer, WTA’s field programs manager, who oversees these projects, says that without committed volunteer crew leaders — blue hats — and the community of hard-working volunteers, very little of this would be possible. 

“The program relies on volunteers like Patrick and Marji to step up and take the lead on expanding the program in places like Kitsap County.” Alan says. “[There’s] just an incredible amount of work to make it all happen and we have many volunteers across the state doing this every day of the year.”

A morning trailhead briefing before heading out on trail.
A morning trailhead briefing before heading out on trail. Photo by Patrick Sullivan. 

Looking to the future, Patrick plans to continue work on the five large heritage parks in the Kitsap County area, as well as start work on small parks that don’t get a lot of attention. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he wants to spend more time in the dirt at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park. Marji is interested in seeing how things evolve. There are three shoreline parks that WTA may start work on soon. While she’s not sure what’s exactly in store for the future of nearby parks, she’s eager to continue working outside. 

And both Patrick and Marji look forward to continuing to work with the community to build more trails and green spaces for Kitsap County. 

With all of these new trails popping up in the area, those who are hoping to explore green spaces have so many more options to choose from. If you’re hoping to join the effort in creating more places like this, volunteer with WTA to help build even more trails for everyone to enjoy. And if you end up hiking any of these trails, share your experience in a trip report.

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