The Peninsula Trails Coalition says a state plan for re-opening a lagoon on Discovery Bay has put the “vision” for the Olympic Discovery Trail in jeopardy. That vision calls for a 126-mile multi-use trail that stretches unbroken from Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean.
“There are a few places where topography, politics and land ownership create a choke hold,” said Andrew Stevenson, co-president with his wife, Chris Gutmacher, of the coalition.
The newest road block, Stevenson said, concerns a brief portion of the abandoned railway along Discovery Bay, just west of Fat Smitty’s.
Stevenson said utilizing the railroad bed, which includes a picturesque trestle, was always part of the long-term trail plan — “a no-brainer,” he said. He noted the stretch is perfectly located, has a superb road base and provides stunning views.
Unfortunately for the trail planners, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will soon remove the trestle and lower most of the rail bed to restore to full health a lagoon that is fertile grounds for shellfish. The department recently provided the North Olympic Salmon Coalition with a grant to do just that.
The trails coalition is now working with NOSC to design an alternative route, which Stevenson said will almost certainly run along U.S. Highway 101 between the highway and the shore. That puts the designers between a rock and a hard spot — or more accurately, between the shoreline and the highway, both of which are teeming with regulatory requirements. It’s a “perfect storm of permits,” Stevenson said. “Every agency in the country is involved.”
Stevenson said two other alternative routes that have been discussed for the trail would each require two hazardous crossings of Hwy. 101, an easement through developed land and permits through the environmentally sensitive Salmon Creek area. He said those options are, for all practical purposes, impossible.
The good news is that the trails coalition may catch a ride on the regulatory coattails of NOSC, which as part of the lagoon restoration project will move a water pipeline to the same stretch of highway.
The bad news is that the trails coalition has “to march to their timetable. Why would they wait for us?” Stevenson asked.
He added that designing a trail that follows the new pipeline will cost $45,000, and the money has to be in hand by March 31. So far the trails coalition has committed $10,000 of its own funds toward the project, and they’ve been successful in raising an additional $23,000.
“The Olympic Peninsula responded in an amazing way,” Stevenson said. He said he now feels fairly confident the $45,000 will be raised in time, though he admits that may require draining the coalition’s bank account.
“Working together with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, we have contracted with Parametrix, a Pacific Northwest company, to get the job done,” he said.
The next step, however, is a doozy. Stevenson estimates building the trail itself will cost about $650,000 — and he’s not sure where that money is coming from. Furthermore, it has to be gathered quickly.
Stevenson said the issue is made more difficult because Jefferson County, where that portion of the trail is located, isn’t as vigorous a partner in trails construction and maintenance as Clallam County and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
Chuck Preble, vice president of the coalition, said they need Jefferson County to “assume leadership” in getting the job done.
Unfortunately, he said, “Jefferson just doesn’t seem to understand the importance of this trail.”
Stevenson said that’s somewhat understandable: the population of Jefferson runs north-south, while the trail runs east-west. “You very quickly run out of a constituency,” he noted.
But in the end, Stevenson said, the potential exists for a win-win situation. The peninsula might eventually enjoy a world-class amenity — if the hurdles can be overcome.
Preble noted that non-motorized tourism is growing rapidly in importance. Cutting Port Townsend out of the picture just doesn’t make sense, he said. “We need our entry dock,” he said.
“I’ll make a deal with the devil,” Stevenson said.
“Not really,” he followed up with a smile.
But Stevenson did provide an assurance that the all-volunteer organization is pulling out all the stops in getting the job accomplished.
“We’ve been working on this trail for over twenty years,” Stevenson said. “Community support has gotten us a long way in making the dream a reality, and community support, both locally and statewide, is needed now more than ever to keep the dream alive.”
For more information, see www.olympicdiscoverytrail.com.