Rain delays work on final leg of Centennial Trail

ARLINGTON — Wet weather over several seasons set back the completion date of the northern section of the Centennial Trail to the Skagit County line.

The opening of the final four-mile leg now is scheduled for late fall, said Snohomish County parks director Tom Teigen. Originally, it was hoped that part of the trail would be open for traffic in the fall of 2011.

“We just need to wait for drier weather. Water tables and soggy soil have been a real problem. We had to bring in a lot of structural fill,” Teigen said. “The contractor plans to remobilize on July 9 and then rock’n’roll to finish up.”

The city of Arlington also plans by fall to complete its section of unfinished trail along 67th Avenue, officials said.

Stretching from Snohomish north through Arlington, the 29-mile Centennial Trail is considered the county’s largest park. The first part of the trail officially opened in 1989, the state’s centennial year. Most of it follows an abandoned railroad grade that was laid in the late 1800s.

Rick Schranck, president of the Centennial Trail Coalition, took time last week to examine preparations for the final push of construction.

“We’ve had a lot of rain. In addition, flooding along Pilchuck Creek had eroded the railroad bed and a landslide had undercut the trail near the new bridge over the creek,” Schranck said. “But it’s looking great now and the new bridge is beautiful.”

The last leg of the trail lies between the bridge, located more than a mile north of the Bryant trailhead, and the new North Trailhead Park just south of the county line. Repairs to a landslide on the trail north of the Pilchuck added to about $500,000 to the cost of the $6.8 million, eight-mile trail project from Arlington to Skagit County, Teigen said.

Top-grade trails for walkers, bikers and equestrians cost about $1 million a mile, including design, engineering, environmental mitigation and construction, Teigen said.

Despite the cost, the estimated 300,000 to 500,000 trips people take on the trail provide for tourism revenues and economic development, said Wendy Becker, the county’s economic and cultural development officer.

“Our efforts to increase opportunities for outdoor recreation stem from our desire to provide safe and easy access to natural spaces and recreational areas like the Centennial Trail,” Becker said. “This access to open spaces are key ingredients to healthy communities, contribute to a high quality of life and most importantly, attract and sustain businesses and families.”

Small businesses such as restaurants, bike shops and outdoor retailers can benefit from direct sales, along with business owners who provide gas, lodging and other tourism services, she said.

Becker is looking forward to finishing up yet another element of the Centennial Trail this year.

Part of the effort to promote the trail as a tourism asset includes the use of smartphone technology to interpret history along the trail, she said.

“Imagine walking the Centennial Trail with friends when you come across a tag,” Becker said. “You scan the tag with your phone and are immediately connected to historic facts, images and other significant information right at your fingertips.”

“The Centennial Trail is truly the jewel of the county,” Schranck said. “We are looking forward to its completion.”

And now that the Centennial Trail is nearly done, the trail coalition has refocused its attention on the Whitehorse Trail from Arlington to Darrington, Schranck said.

People who want to donate to the $50,000 gravel paving project for the first eight miles of trail are encouraged to send their checks to Centennial Trail Coalition of Snohomish County, PO Box 1453, Snohomish, WA 98290.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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