Every ride or hike on the Larry Scott Trail is an exhilarating jaunt leading to disappointment. We revel in the views across Townsend Bay, the serenity of the Quimper forests and horse pastures, the absence of trucks and Winnebagos…. And then we reach the dead end at Four Corners.
For years, there has been the promise of extending the trail 10 miles south, connecting with the rest of the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) across the peninsula, past Sequim Bay and Crescent Lake to the Pacific beaches near LaPush. But when?
Soon, we are told. “Work could begin late in 2022, or maybe early 2023,” says Jeff Selby, a Hadlock retiree and lifelong hiker and cyclist who serves on the board of the Peninsula Trails Association. “It’s in the design stage.”
He and others will update trail users on their plans, and hopefully raise some money to help keep it going, at on online auction Saturday, October 16. Where’s my checkbook?
The Olympic Discovery Trail is a regional gem more than 30 years in the making, driven by an occasional infusion of public dollars, and by a cadre of tireless volunteers like Selby. The 7.5 mile Larry Scott Trail, which winds its way along a long-abandoned railroad right of way between Port Townsend and Four Corners, is arguably the most-used section of that trail – and home to its longest and most frustrating gap.
And that seems oddly appropriate, given its challenging terrain and checkered history. Some 140 years ago, Port Townsend boomed with the promise of a railroad which would wind down around Puget Sound, linking up with the transcontinental transportation routes and making everybody rich. Locals raised some $100,000 and handed it over to a couple of fast-talkers who, in a few months, laid tracks down through the woods and along the shore to the bottom of Discovery Bay.
And there it stopped. Permanently. The railroad went bankrupt and local speculators lost their money as they watched new-fangled steamships bypass Port Townsend, opting to offload their cargoes in Seattle and Tacoma (Duh!). Port Townsend’s boom went bust.
Eventually, of course, the town benefited from both the boom and bust – those handsome brick buildings lining Water Street, dozens of gorgeous Victorian homes, an Army fort that eventually become an extraordinary park. But what about that railroad to Discovery Bay?
One hundred years later, in the 1980s, trail lovers across the nation realized the value of abandoned railroad beds. They’re available, accessible, perfectly graded, and they are everywhere.
Linda Hanlon, a ridiculously fit cyclist and a graphic designer now living in PT, started out working on rails-to-trails projects in her home state of Ohio. To promote the idea, she pedaled 3700 miles across the country to Seattle, which was turning its old railway bed into the Burke-Gilman Trail..
“At the time, the idea was for a trail across the continent, ending in Seattle,” she recalls. “And people said: ‘Wait a minute! There’s another 135 miles of railroad bed on the peninsula!’”
She moved to Seattle and eventually to PT and continues to work with fellow hikers and bikers, trying to fill those gaps – especially the Larry Scott.
It’s a complex process, she says, involving 14 political jurisdictions – two counties, two cities, three Native American tribes, state agencies and utility districts.
The terrain is equally challenging. That 1890 railroad bed along the shoreline of Discovery Bay was largely taken over by private homes and local roads. And whatever route is taken involves some combination of steep slopes, wetlands, private forest lands, municipal watersheds, environmental permits, reluctant landowners and more.
All those challenges add to the costs. Converting a basic railway bed to a trail might cost $300,000 or so per mile, Selby says. But the average cost is closer to $500,000 per mile. And a single, three-quarter mile stretch opened recently at the foot of Discovery Bay came in at triple that — a staggering $1.4 million, or $350 per foot.
But Jefferson County now has the money and most of the right-of-way to extend the Larry Scott southward, Selby says. The trail will follow powerlines through the woods to Anderson Lake State Park, and sometime later to Eaglemont Road and Discovery Bay.
When that happens, it will have taken trailblazers a quarter of a century to cover the ground that a couple of 19th century robber barons traversed in six months.
But I will be there, tin knees and all. Maybe the Peninsula Trails auction will have a good deal on a used wheelchair.
The Peninsula Trails Association will hold a fundraising auction this week, leading up to a streamed “Trail Blaze Bash” the evening of Saturday, Oct. 16. Information at https://olympicdiscoverytrail.org/
Top photo: Discovery Bay by Carl Berger