With the weather warming up, locals and tourists alike will be flocking to trails across the Olympic Peninsula in significant numbers to enjoy the sun and the scenery, but two problems loom over the Olympic Discovery Trail between Sequim and Blyn.
Near milepost 26 on U.S. Highway 101, a stretch of the trail has been slowly sliding down the hill for several years, and in recent months the safely navigable section of the trail has been shrinking to a concerning degree, local bike enthusiasts report.
In addition, the Dean Creek Bridge – just across U.S. Highway 101 from 7 Cedars Casino – was marked unsafe for crossing last year when the bridge’s east side partially detached from the trail itself.
The Dean Creek Bridge failure has forced both foot and bicycle traffic up to a detour for a gravelly 50-foot stretch of the shoulder of the highway, while the bridge itself is slowly being overgrown by blackberry bushes as it hangs into the creek bed below.
Another such detour may soon be necessary on the milepost 26 section of the trail, where deteriorating conditions has sunk a long section of the trail about one foot. Long cracks in the remaining portion of the trail have left a little more than a 12-inch-wide section of safely navigable trail for cyclists.
The Olympic Peninsula Bicycle Alliance, a local bicycle club, is trying to bring more attention to the issue – and hopefully some action as well.
Richard Bloomer said he is concerned about the safety of not only his group but every bicyclist and other trail user this summer.
“We have upwards of 30 riders that ride out to the Longhouse in Blyn every Wednesday,” Bloomer said, “and the trail is getting harder to navigate every week.”
Bloomer and association president Ken Stringer pointed out the dangers to cyclists due to the issues near the milepost 26 site.
“Not only is the usable amount of trail shrinking,” Stringer said, “(but) the cracks in the trail can easily cause an accident. Our riders know the trail well enough to avoid it, but someone coming in from out of the area who doesn’t know it could easily get their tire caught in the crack and fall.”
The Bicycling group is also concerned about the upcoming Tour de Lavender, which is facing a second straight year of being forced to change their routes as they expect their biggest turnout ever — with as many as 1,000 riders expected to participate in the Aug. 3 event.
Where they would normally have their turnaround and rest stop at the Longhouse in Blyn, they’ll likely put it in Sequim Bay State Park to avoid putting so many cyclists on the highway, OBPA representatives said.
While the logistics of the Dean Creek Bridge reconstruction will take some work, Bloomer and the rest of Sequim’s bicyclists who use that section of the trail are hoping for some sign of progress and activity soon, particularly at the milepost 26 slide area.
County considers repairs
Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias told the Gazette that one hurdle to getting the trail repaired has already been cleared: “Our engineers have already worked with the Washington State Department of Transportation to determine the source of the drainage and stormwater runoff from (Highway 101) that caused the slide,” Ozias said. “WSDOT has already worked to correct the issue. That means there shouldn’t be further damage to the area.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like much else can be done there soon, Ozias said. While the importance of repairing the trail at that site is high, Ozias said, the complexity of the engineering task means that it will likely be a long process to complete.
“Emergency repair work to the Sol Duc River Bridge meant that our engineers had to be retasked,” Ozias said, noting the latest delay. He noted how important it is to “get the work right” to avoid having to come back and fix the trail again in a few years’ time.
Rich James Transportation Program Manager for Clallam County, said that engineers would also have to contend with a deteriorating rock cribbing retaining wall under that section of the trail, adding further complexity to the task.
That issue also means any temporary measures to improve safety of the trail would only lead to worse issues down the line.
James said plans are in place with the Peninsula Trails Coalition, the group that oversees the operation of the Olympic Discovery Trails, to put up signs sometime in the “very short term” instructing riders to dismount and cross that section of the trail on foot. Bloomer and Stringer said they had also heard of these signs being planned, but as of a visit to that section of the trail on May 10 the signs had not yet been posted.
James noted that while Clallam County would prefer the trail be repaired before summer begins, it would be more realistic to expect the work to be finished either next winter or spring.
Ozias and James both said that several options were being considered, but Ozias told the Gazette that no firm timeline could be set until scheduling can be finalized.
“We’ll be having talks over the next month to get (plans and schedules) in place,” Ozias said, “and we’ll announce what those will be once they’re set.”
For their part, the Jamestown S’Kallam tribe are working to get the Dean Creek Bridge repaired on an “expedited” schedule, according to Annette Nesse, the tribe’s transportation program manager.
“The bridge isn’t on tribal property, but we are working jointly with Clallam County (and the Peninsula Trails Coalition) to expedite a repair,” Nesse said.
Nesse also mentioned that part of the delay in getting repair work started was a logistical one, with the tribe needing to add that section of the Olympic Discovery Trail to the Tribal Transportation Program Inventory. With that now done, the tribe is in conversations with Clallam County to plan the repairs, the costs for which the tribe are hoping to share.
According to Nesse, the bridge supports on both sides on Dean Creek need to be completely replaced, and the bridge itself must have it’s structural integrity assessed. If it can be repaired and set back into place it will be, but if that is not found to be a safe option the entire bridge deck will need to be replaced, she said.