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The Greg Ball Trail: Bridging Past, Present and Future

Posted by Linnea Johnson at May 08, 2023 03:57 PM |

WTA volunteers help cement longtime WTA leader, Greg Ball, by renovating a bridge in his honor at Wallace Falls State Park.

If you’ve visited Wallace Falls State Park, chances are that you’ve hiked the Woody Trail to see the iconic series of waterfalls. But if you choose to take the trail less traveled to Wallace Lake, you’ll find yourself on a quieter path envisioned by — and built in memory of — an icon in the Washington trail community: Greg Ball. 

In memory of a true trailblazer

Greg served as WTA’s board president from 1989 to 1991 and was hired on as executive director in 1992. In 1998, he stepped down from this top leadership role to focus full time on building our volunteer trail maintenance program as operations director. 

In the 30 years since, the seedling program that Greg nurtured has grown into a towering tree — the nation’s largest state-based trail maintenance program. In 2022 alone, WTA volunteers completed 151,000 hours of trail work over a total of 1,312 work parties. 

In 2004, Greg passed away at the age of 60 after a 2-year battle with cancer. In our winter 2005 member magazine, which was dedicated to Greg’s memory, then-executive director Elizabeth Lunney wrote, “During his time at WTA, Greg was a bright light burning for many of us. He touched countless volunteers, inspired many of us to do the work we do, and served as a constant reminder of how meaningful life can be.” 

Two photos are stitched side by side. One is of an old, decrepit bridge, while the other is of a brand new bridge.
Our new bridge on the Greg Ball Trail is safer and more accessible for hikers. Photos by Matt Christian

The Greg Ball Trail was designed by Greg and completed in his memory by volunteers. The trail winds through a naturally regenerated forest where, according to Kevin Lease, Wallace Falls State Park manager, “You leave 90% of the hikers behind. It’s a longer hike to Wallace Lake [than other routes], but a really rewarding trip.” 

After the trail opened in 2006, our crews again worked on the trail in 2010 and 2011. 

As a result of our longstanding partnership with Washington State Parks, WTA returned this March to upgrade parts of the trail and replace a bridge. Wallace Falls State Park staff have such confidence in WTA’s work that they chose to direct the Park Improvement Account (which comes from gift shop sales and donations) to support WTA’s work on the Greg Ball Trail.

Greg’s legacy in action

On the second-to-last day of trail work at Wallace Falls, our volunteer trail crew completed a new bridge crossing the trail. 

“Most of us here have never met Greg Ball. But when we’re out here on the trail and have an experience of fun and community, that’s Greg’s legacy,” said Brandon Tigner, north Puget Sound trails coordinator. “If you’re out here on trail and you’ve felt that welcoming spirit, you’ve met Greg. I’ve always felt that with WTA.” 

Throughout the day, there were countless examples of that spirit in action. Here are just a few of those moments: 

The day kicked off with celebration as crew leader Matt Christian presented volunteer Sara Lorimer with her own green hat, an honor presented at a volunteer’s fifth work party.

A WTA crew leader and volunteer exchange a green hat in a trailhead parking lot.Crew leader Matt Christian presented volunteer Sara Lorimer with her own green hat. Photo by Linnea Johnson

For assistant crew leader Doug Murray, building bridges is a passion — one that integrates many trail skills and brings crew members together around a tangible goal.

“There’s a great variety of tasks. You get to practice craftsmanship — the cutting of the joints, the fitting,” Doug said.“You get to practice the teamwork of moving heavy logs. And you get to do rock work.” 

“I’m all about making it easy for people to access nature.” he said.

A volunteer holds a level up to the new bridge to ensure it is leveled.
Doug Murray, longtime volunteer and trusted bridge expert, confirms that the bridge is level. Photo by Linnea Johnson

Eleventh grade student Dallas Damianick participated in multiple work parties on the Greg Ball Trail in a row. Dallas takes a day off school each month to join WTA work parties as part of a volunteer project. He added the final screw to complete the bridge.

The first hiker to cross the bridge was Rex Caldwell, visiting from Brier. The trail crew cheered and took pictures as he strode across the freshly secured planks. He wrote his 53rd trip report about the experience.

“Once back at the WTA work site, they were finishing the foot treads and invited me to be the official first hiker to cross,” Rex said. “They apologized for not having a ribbon for a cutting ceremony but I was glad to jog across with arms raised and high fives like a celebrity nonetheless! Thank you all for the work — it is appreciated more than you know!”

At the end of the day, staff and volunteer crew members stuck around to enjoy a meal together. Numerous volunteers even stayed overnight in cabins. Courtesy of Washington State Parks, these accommodations enabled volunteers to participate in multiple work parties in a row — and to explore the park and talk for hours around the fire. 

A group of volunteers and trail crew members sit on a picnic bench.
The crew enjoys a potluck dinner after a long day’s work on the trail. Photo by Linnea Johnson

“That’s the special part about WTA that I’m drawn to — this community, and this spirit — and I think that Greg Ball is a big part of that,” Brandon said. 

Indeed, to Greg, it was not the quantity of work done, but the quality of the relationships built that mattered most on the trail. His “Rules for Living” were published in the 2005 magazine.

“Success in life will be judged by the amount of joy you bring to the lives of others and yourself. And by the relationships you form or help others to form,” Greg wrote.

One thing is for sure: WTA will step into the next 30 years of trail maintenance with Greg’s philosophies at heart. 

Greg Ball, wearing an orange hat, smiles at the camera.
Greg at a work party in 1998. 

This year, WTA celebrates our trail program’s 30th anniversary. In three decades, thousands of volunteers have shared the joy of trail work so that countless people can safely access nature on high-quality trails. But the work requires supplies, staff, and cannot continue without continued support from our community. If you love hiking and want to invest in a future for trails, we ask you to invest in WTA. Become a monthly supporter today