Trafton trailhead offers a glimpse of Whitehorse Trail’s future

Next year it will hopefully be a reality for joggers, walkers and bikers to veer off Centennial Trail just across the river from Arlington and head east up the Stillaguamish Valley, taking in views of soaring peaks and lush valleys. The trek on the Whitehorse Trail will cover 28 miles and will connect Arlington to Darrington and pass through the Oso mudslide site.

Unfortunately it’s not ready for prime time and won’t likely be until fall 2016.

That doesn’t mean that sections of the trail aren’t being spruced up. Crews cleared approximately 15 miles of the trail in November and decking work on a trestle bridge over the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River near 300th Street can be seen from Highway 530. Recently Northwest guidebook author Craig Romano made a portion of the trail near Trafton his hike of the week.

I’m excited about the possibility of using the Whitehorse Trail, so after seeing Romano’s post I took my three kids up to the Trafton trailhead and the former Cloverdale Farm site, which the Snohomish County Parks Department purchased in 1998.

There is parking for six to seven cars near the park entrance and a dirt trail past the former working dairy farm down to a fertile floodplain. Don’t skip taking a picture in front of the cow mural (my kids pretended to milk the cow, of course).

Antique farm equipment, including an orange tractor and green tiller, greet visitors near where the Whitehorse Trail begins. Currently the trail, which is an old Burlington Northern railroad line, is made up of loose rocks and gravel and only heads west (uncleared brush blocks the trail heading east).

A little less than a mile from the trailhead is an overhauled trestle bridge spanning the Stillaguamish River. The trestle bridge has improved decking and fencing and is safe to cross. From there the trail heads west through the Pilchuck Tree Farm, wetlands and meadows, and hooks up with the Centennial Trail approximately four miles from the Trafton trailhead. According to Romano’s post, the final mile is not recommended for use.

Quick note: After my visit to Trafton, I was informed by Sharon Swan, Snohomish County Parks Department principal park planner, that the county is not encouraging usage of the portion of trail near the Trafton trailhead at this time. The former farm site and the trail are public domain and are accessible, but officially only seven miles of the Whitehorse Trail is open: the seven miles heading west from Price Street in Darrington.

That doesn’t mean the farm and a grass trail down to the Stillaguamish River can’t be enjoyed. The grass trail loops around what used to be a tennis-shoe golf course and ends up by the river. While we were hiking the Whitehorse Trail, another visitor took his dog down to the river and hiked along the bank to where the river meets the trestle bridge.

Plenty of work has to be done between now and the planned completion of the trail in late 2016. A number of trestle bridges — there are 14 in all along the trail — need to be redecked and rerailed (funded by a $301,000 private donation) and the county is requesting a grant from the Washington Department of Transportation to fund two trail crossings of Highway 530.

The county is also rebuilding a mile-long stretch of the trail that was wiped out entirely by the Oso mudslide last year, planning to start construction of that portion in 2016.

This past Thanksgiving, the county signed off on a donation of 30 acres near Fortson Mill that will become a parking area and trailhead. The Fortson Mill trailhead joins the Cicero Pond area near Oso, another farm site that was purchased in 1995, and the Hazel Hole area as trailheads along the Whitehorse Trail.

Driving along Highway 530 much of this work is in plain sight and should keep any outdoor enthusiast excited.

Aaron Swaney: 425-339-3430; Twitter: @swaney_aaron79.

Trafton trailhead

To get there, take exit 208 off of I-5 and drive east on Highway 530 to Arlington. From Arlington, continue east on 530 for 4 miles and turn left on 115th Ave NE. The red barn (look for the blue silo) and a small parking lot is on the left after a half mile. Be respectful of farm buildings and equipment, which are off limits. Trails are dog-friendly.

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