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Washington State Trails Conference: Learning More About How Our Trail System Works

Posted by clopez at Nov 13, 2018 11:30 AM |

The 2018 Washington Trails Conference was full of learning opportunities and fascinating information about what goes into the trails we enjoy.

On October 1 of this year, I walked into the WTA office for my first day as the trails and communications specialist. I'm new to both Washington and the wonderful world of trails within it, so I was ecstatic at the opportunity to learn more about both through my job.

A highlight of my first month on the job was the 2018 Washington State Trails Conference held in Wenatchee.

Rock Mountain Trail Photo by Katie Evans..jpg
The 2018 Biannual Trails Conference is open to anyone passionate about Washington’s trails like the Rock Mountain Trail. Photo by Katie Evans.

Held every two years thanks to organization from the Washington State Trails Coalition, Trails Conference offers trail-centric organizations the chance to share information and updates from across the state. This year’s conference theme was “Leading the Way,” and each conference presentation fell under one of the four session themes: Shared Trails, Inclusivity, Public Lands and Managing for Change.

WTA typically is part of several presentations and this year was no different. Several of my colleagues presented on working with youth, creating strong volunteer partnerships with public agencies, and how WTA's diversity, equity and inclusion work has been unfolding.

Connecting Communities

I was able to connect with Washington's trails for the first time using Trailhead Direct, so the session discussing that service was especially exciting to me. Trailhead Direct’s goals are to ease vehicle congestion, reduce safety hazards and expand access to hiking destination along the I-90 corridor. The pilot program, supported by WTA and other partners, has been a great success and is still growing and changing. Be sure to keep an eye out for its return in 2019.

Another session I attended was "When Youth Lead", led by Youth Trail Program Manager Clarissa Allen. I was impressed by the youth ambassadors, and how they encourage their peers to connect to the outdoors. These hardworking highschoolers encourage their peers to get outside by starting hiking clubs and working with public elementary schools. By getting people outside, they are helping folks see why nature is worth exploring and protecting. 

Minotaur Lake Photo by Celeste Barry..jpg
Wenatchee is a beautiful area with lots of wonderful trails like the Minotaur Lake Trail. Photo by Celeste Barry.

Creative Solutions to For Trails from Rails

Some programs at the conference discussed the fascinating process of converting unused railways into trails. The “When Opportunity Knocks; Whittling Away Resistance to Achieve Positive Outcomes” program was about the CAP corridor (a 50 + mile section of railway between Colfax, Albion and Pullman) that the Washington State Department of Transportation hopes to convert to a biking trail.

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The process of converting railroads into trails, like the East Side Rail Trail in King County, is more complicated than it may seem. Photo by Christopher Burke.

While turning an unused railroad into a trail seems like a no-brainer to me, in this session I learned how WSDOT worked with private property owners to alleviate their concerns about the transition. They held community workshops, shared studies of other trails and even did a car tour of the proposed route.

I also enjoyed the “Squalicum Creek – Railways, Creeks, Floodways and More” session. This rail-to-trail conversion seemed like a simple case of resurfacing old railway, but the original plans had to be changed partially to preserve the natural habitat. This meant using more expensive methods for creating the trail. Though it cost a lot of time and energy, the end result was a wonderful trail that can be enjoyed for years to come. Despite having little technical knowledge about trail construction, the presenters made the concepts accessible and easy to understand so I was able to follow along in both these sessions and learn a lot about what exactly goes in to making a trail.

It's all in the Details

Converting railways isn’t the only way to build a trail. The Watershed Company discussed urban trail projects in their program: “Wait, you used a pump track as restoration? How Puget Sound Cities Are Using Trails to Promote Environmental Stewardship.”

A pump track is a bike track that propels users forward with momentum instead of pedaling. The pump track created in Torguson Park is particularly fascinating because it was built with the explicit intent to actually improve the wetland area surrounding it. The focus of this session showed how to approach problems with building in areas with delicate habitats in a creative, environmentally friendly ways.

Another delightful session I attended was the “So Many Trails, So Many Flowers” program in which the president of the Washington Native Plants Society (WNPS) discussed the organization's plans to expand their Plant List so that hikers and seekers of wildflowers can report their sightings. Hikers are already reporting wildflower sightings in WTA Trip Reports, but more can be done to increase awareness and passion for wildflowers.

Clara and Marion Lakes Photo by Terry.jpeg
The Marion and Clara Lakes hike is a pleasant trek up a larch-lined trail. Photo by Terry.

When I first came to the conference, I will admit I was a little nervous. Everyone around me seemed to know so much about Washington’s trail systems and I seemed to know so little in comparison. When I sat down for the first session of the day, I expected to be totally out of my league, but as soon as the program started, I found myself following along with ease.

It was a great experience which allowed me to explore the beautiful Wenatchee area and take a quick hike to see the larches in all their yellow glory. Even a trail novice can learn and participate at the Washington State Trails Conference and be a part of the Washington State Trails Coalition. It is a great way to learn about all the things, little and big, that go into a trail that you don’t think about while you are enjoying them. 

Additional Information/ Resources