Puget Sound to Pacific trail would be 'transcendent geographical landmark'

PS2P trail would be 200-mile multi-use pathway, if completed
July 19, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
Clallam County and Olympic National Park collaborated to recommission two tunnels on the Spruce Railroad Trail leg of the Olympic Discovery Trail on Lake Crescent.
Clallam County and Olympic National Park collaborated to recommission two tunnels on the Spruce Railroad Trail leg of the Olympic Discovery Trail on Lake Crescent. (Photo courtesy of John Gussman)

CDN Contributor

The popular Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails inspire pilgrimages into America’s wildlands.

The proposed Puget Sound to Pacific trail (PS2P) does not promise such a wilderness adventure. The 200-mile multi-use pathway is tamer, flatter and more urban than wild.

But it would be a transcendent geographical landmark for Western Washingtonians if completed. As imagined, the route is the western terminus of the Great American Rail-Trail that starts 3,700 miles to the east in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a thread that unites and sets a tone for connecting open spaces that we’re in the process of losing,” said Don Willott of the North Kitsap Trails Association.

Willott’s group is part of a nonprofit collaborative with the Peninsula Trails Coalition and Bainbridge Island Parks and Trails Foundation to spearhead the construction of a paved route catering to cycling, jogging and walking.

photo  The proposed Puget Sound to Pacific trail would connect the Sound to Olympics and Olympic Discovery trails starting at the Washington State Ferries docks on Bainbridge Island, Kingston and Port Townsend, and ending in La Push. When completed, it will offer 200 miles of connected multi-use trails. (Map courtesy of Puget Sound to Pacific Collaborative)  

The collaborative, though, says the concept goes beyond recreation. The PS2P also is touted as a transportation corridor and greenway for local communities and Seattle commuters.

The trail has three starting points: the Washington State Ferries docks at Bainbridge Island, Kingston and Port Townsend. It ends on the Washington coast at La Push.

The idea is to link the Sound to Olympics Trail with the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT), creating an extensive recreational network. It would connect the Pacific with the Mountains to Sound Greenway and beyond on a bigger scale.

“It’s truly of regional significance to have this,” Willott said.

Creating a thru trail can take decades. It often involves government jurisdictions, fundraising and land acquisitions. The PS2P project includes seven cities, three counties, the Quileute and Suquamish tribes and the Washington Department of Transportation.

The 13 entities responsible for their unfinished piece of this complicated mosaic got a boost in June with a $16.13 million RAISE Discretionary Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.  

The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, is a mechanism for the federal transportation department to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that have nationwide goals.

The grant, split evenly among jurisdictions, won’t launch the building of the final 100 miles.

“Everything moves forward, but it doesn’t itself take anything across the finish line,” said Jeff Bohman, Peninsula Trails Coalition president. 

The money is earmarked for the designing and planning of 34 multi-use trail segments. It is a necessary step in the decades-long process of creating a contiguous route.

photo  Workers reconstructed the Larry Scott section of the Olympic Discovery Trail near Port Townsend in spring to make it safer for users. (Photo courtesy of Don Willott)  

Planners now have funding to address about 100 miles of gaps, community connections and safety improvements along the trail. That, in turn, could make way for acquisitions of easements and rights of way and, finally, to pursue construction funding.

One of the gaps is a vital 16-to-22-mile stretch joining the two trails across Hood Canal. Bohman said trail planners have discussed general ideas about solving the potential roadblock without seriously studying the issue.

The RAISE grant gives Jefferson County officials the resources to decide how to get from the Hood Canal Bridge to the ODT. 

I doubt a wide, paved trail would appeal to many North Cascades hikers I meet. They would prefer one of the challenging wilderness routes in the Olympic Mountains, such as the High Divide trail. 

But the project is attractive to road cyclists looking for a long weekend excursion with potential stopovers in one of the small towns along the route. 

The idea of a public pathway between Port Townsend, Port Angeles and the coast took root in 1988 with three local cyclists.

photo  Views of the snowcapped Olympics are one of the attractions along the Olympic Discovery Trail from Port Townsend to La Push. Officials say they have completed 95 miles of the 135-mile multi-use trail. (Photo courtesy of Don Willott)  

The Peninsula Trails Coalition formed as an all-volunteer group dedicated to building a 135-mile trail from Port Townsend to La Push. It proposed using as much of the abandoned Milwaukee Railroad corridor as possible.

They completed the first piece of the ODT in 1991 with a 3,000-foot section across the Dungeness River west of Sequim.

Over three decades, the coalition has partnered with multiple jurisdictions to convert abandoned rail lines, utility easements and other public corridors in Jefferson and Clallam counties into part of the route. They've completed about 95 miles of trail, which consists of asphalt, crushed stone and dirt.

One of the most popular legs is the 10-mile Spruce Railroad Trail along Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. 

Officials built the trail piecemeal by resolving the easiest issues first. They hope the work provides an incentive for stakeholders to add to the trails already laid.

“It becomes a squeaky wheel, ‘Connect me, connect me,’ ” Bohman said.

A few unpaved spots are in the process of completion within five years. But it still leaves 25 miles to 30 miles of unresolved areas.

Elliott Almond's outdoor column appears monthly. Email: elliottalmond4@gmail.com.

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