The smell of fresh asphalt lingered in the air and fish nibbled along the surface of Lake Crescent as representatives from Olympic National Park, Clallam County, the state Recreation and Conservation Office and the Peninsula Trails Coalition spoke at a small, socially-distanced ribbon cutting ceremony for the Spruce Railroad Trail.
The Oct. 29 ceremony did not open the trail to the public, however, as work continues on the nearly-completed renovated pathway.
The work is expected to be open for use sometime after the middle of November, according to Penny Wagner, Olympic National Park spokesperson.
Some paving and other construction-related activities are yet to be completed and some sections are not yet safe for public use, she said.
The result of public participation, private enterprise and governmental cooperation at the county, state and federal levels, Thursday’s ceremony celebrated the final phase of a multi-year project to revamp and improve accessibility along the former Spruce Railroad grade by creating a paved, multi-purpose trail to be shared by hikers, cyclists, equestrians and those traveling in wheelchairs.
The trail near Lake Crescent follows the historic railroad grade of the Spruce Railroad, which was completed in November of 1918 and abandoned in 1951.
With the newly restored Daley Rankin Tunnel serving as the backdrop for the ceremony, ONP Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum discussed getting an earful from former clallam county commissioner Mike Doherty on one of her first days on the job in Port Angeles, nearly eight years to the day.
“In walks Rich James, (former Clallam County Transportation Program Manager) the engineer, and commissioner Doherty,” Creachbaum said. “And commissioner Doherty was not happy with me. And anybody who knows commissioner Doherty knows that is not a good place to be, to have Mike be unhappy with you.
“They were unhappy because there hadn’t been enough movement on getting some contracting done for what they described to me as the Spruce Railroad Trail,” she said.
“Fast-forward eight years and to be able to stand here and see the finished project and celebrate it with all of our partners is an extraordinary experience for me.”
Creachbaum joked that park superintendents “don’t do anything.”
“We kind of lay the groundwork so things can happen, but we don’t actually go out and do it. The doer in this case is our engineer, Lisa Turecek, the person with the Park Service who really represents this project,” Creachbaum said.
“She has tirelessly promoted it and ensured that it would always continue. She and I have been aligned on this goal since she first came to the park. It is our shared vision, so that is pretty darn exciting.”
Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach directed thanks toward all involved on the project while speaking for past and present colleagues.
“I stand on the shoulders of commissioners like Mike Doherty that really, really advocated for this project, as well as the staff,” Peach said.
“On behalf of commissioner Mark Ozias, commissioner Randy Johnson and myself, we sincerely say thank you to everybody that worked very hard on this, the list is extremely long.”
Peach also drew laughs when he commented on the gorgeous setting for the event.
“It’s beautiful today, and if you aren’t experiencing something that is wonderful, I’m not sure there’s much hope for you,” Peach said. “It’s wonderful to be out here. I’d like to recognize mayor (Tim) Fletcher from Forks. The trail is headed your way, sir. And it’s because of all the hard work of the folks that are here. And to all of you, thank you.”
James outlined the origins of the Spruce Railroad Trail project dating back to 2008 and expressed gratitude that Creachbaum quickly recognized what the trail could become for the park and county.
“The main thing she did early on was she accepted the county’s vision, and by county I mean all the people in the county had a vision of what this trail could be and how it could be a transportation corridor that would go from one end to the other, the Olympic Discovery Trail,” James said.
When opened to the public, the Spruce Railroad Trail will become part of the 134-mile Olympic Discovery Trail, which when complete, will stretch the width of the North Olympic Peninsula from Port Townsend to La Push.
James also praised the park deputy superintendent Lee Taylor and Turecek for their contributions in securing grant funding.
“I think the first year we scored No. 1 in the state (with the Recreation and Conservation Office) was the year (Taylor) came with us. It was so impressive to have a deputy superintendent there, that committee had never seen that kind of support.
“And Lisa is a grant-funding wizard … Almost half of the match money that came for this project came from her efforts.”
James also said he appreciated the support from past and current county commissioners.
“It takes a lot of political willpower to do something like this over that span of time,” James said.
James described the rare use of county road funds to boost a trail project and thanked thousands of trail volunteers and supporters who wrote letters, attending public meetings and put in sweat equity working on the trail itself.