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Making Connections: How Small Trails Can Make a Big Difference

Small trails can have a big impact in creating a healthy trail system that lets people explore from backyards to the backcountry. By Anna Roth

In the past months, hikers have had to adapt how and where they hike. Even in the midst of a pandemic, time spent outside was categorized as essential. When the lockdown was in place, we looked for nature nearby. 

I discovered several pockets of beauty as I walked around my neighborhood: vibrant front-yard flowers, birdsong galore and a particularly stunning magnolia tree I visited often.

While hiking in the city, I realized each block is a short connector to the next intersection, the next decision point. In town, it's easy to dodge other walkers and maintain that mandatory 6 feet of distance, while still creating long loop hikes from complex, weaving routes.

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Chambers Creek. Photo by Britt Lê. 

We may not always have to keep well away from each other on trail, but we will always need a complex trail system that can absorb a lot of hikers, the way the city can hold the people who live there. And with years of trail planning and building under our boots, WTA knows that one of the best ways to do that is with a connector trail — a short trail that links one pre-existing trail to another.

Though connectors may seem simple in terms of project size, they add complexity and new possibilities to trail networks hikers already know and love.

Making smart additions to trail systems is just one way WTA has been creating trails for everyone for years, and in recent weeks we’ve seen firsthand the need for even more investment. Here are a few of our success stories, and a few projects that we’re planning to work on in the future.

South Sound/Olympics

Darlin Creek: By installing a bridge and improving two short sections of trail at Darlin Creek, WTA was able to provide hikers with the 2-mile Wetland Forest Trail (a loop), and the Piedra Trail, which allows hikers to access Darlin Creek from a new trailhead.

Chambers Creek: In the Tacoma area, our work at Chambers Creek significantly improved the trail system. The old trail was almost unusable, with steep sections and even a rope to help you make your way uphill at one point. WTA’s work here mitigated that danger and created a connection between trailheads. The groundwork we laid will allow for more hiking opportunities as the system is built out.

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Map by Lisa Holmes.


Blanchard Mountain: At Blanchard Mountain, WTA has recently been working on improvements to the Lily/Max connector, a short section of one of the loops from either the Upper Trailhead or the Samish Overlook (which hikers currently use to head for Oyster Dome). With the completion of the connector, hikers will have another option from the same trailhead.

Rock Trail: The Rock Trail, completed in 2014, is a steep connector trail cutting down from the high point at the end of Cleator Road and connecting to the North Lost Lake Trail. It allows hikers to create long loops, starting at a variety of trailheads, and can also be done as an out-and-back — a great option for those looking to get some conditioning in.

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Map by Lisa Holmes.


Mica Peak: Recent work at Mica Peak is creating more loops there, and thanks to Henry Road — a road-to-trail conversion that now connects the trail systems of Mica Peak and Liberty Lake — even more miles of hiking are available right in residents’ backyards.

As we look to the future, we’re pursuing similar work in a couple of other locations. The Etter Ranch Trail project will add significantly to the Antoine Peak trail system, creating a connection from Spokane Valley to the peak.

And in Mount Spokane State Park, building Trail 182 will allow hikers to do a significant new loop on the west side of the mountain.

Puget Sound

Pratt Lake Connector: WTA’s most ambitious connector project currently underway is our work to restore the Pratt River Trail. When finished, it will connect two major hiking destinations: Pratt Lake and the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. It’s been years since this route has seen any maintenance, but opening it up will create thru-hiking opportunities and new backpacking options in two extremely popular areas.



Coyote Wall: In the Gorge, WTA has enhanced several trail systems using connector projects. At Coyote Wall, we worked with mountain bike representatives, Friends of the Gorge and the U.S. Forest Service to create the Traverse Trail. This connector created a loop that hikers had wanted for years. By building it, we were able to meet hikers’ needs and guide them off the adjoining private property.

Beacon Rock State Park: WTA has done lots of work in Beacon Rock State Park, including two projects that greatly expanded the options available to hikers. The Hardy Ridge Connector linked two existing trails by climbing up and over a ridge, creating a loop and adding in a bit of a workout to the route.

We also built the Bridge Trail, a short trail branching off Hardy Ridge and heading down to Hardy Creek. Here, hikers can cross a bridge and make their way onto miles of more adventure.

Both of these projects helped add complexity to the trail system and created loop hikes, which can reduce congestion in popular areas. They’re early examples of rebooting a trail, even long before WTA had officially launched our Trails Rebooted campaign.

Map by Lisa Holmes.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.