23 years later, happy trails

Twenty-three years ago, the idea that would eventually morph into the Snohomish County Centennial Trail came to life among a group from Lake Stevens.

By 1991, that dream had only proceeded about seven miles, from Lake Stevens to Snohomish.

Dan Bates / The Herald

John Cortez (left) and Pete Davis, both of Marysville, pedal along a new section of the Centennial Trail near Lake Stevens on Thursday.

Today, another 10.3 miles officially opens, almost all the way to Arlington. The trail will be opened to the public at 12:30 p.m. after a dedication ceremony.

The new stretch is paved and includes a horse trail, just like the existing trail, said Charles Brennick, a senior planner for the county Parks and Recreation Department.

Marc Krandel, planning supervisor for the department, said the first section has been drawing more than 260,000 users each year, making it something of tourist attraction. Those numbers are expected to rise as the additional miles make it more attractive for bicyclists, who will have a 35-mile round trip, he said.

“I think it will be attracting folks from outside the county, especially bicyclists,” Krandel said.

Sandy Ward, executive director of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, said it’s hard to tell how many people from outside the county the centennial trail draws.

“We hope that will be a big draw,” Ward said.

The new $6.7 million trail extension will take bikers, hikers, skaters and horseback riders through wooded bogs, past a secluded fishing pier at Lake Cassidy and down a long ridge east of Marysville, stopping at 152nd Street NE and 67th Avenue NE. Along the way, an overlook reveals a view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

More than half the project money came from state funding. The rest came from federal funding and the county, Krandel said.

For John Wynne, president of the Snohomish-Arlington Trail Coalition, the many years of volunteer efforts by his group finally are paying off. “It’s a sense of relief,” he said.

Krandel has been working on the extension for nine years. Most of that time involved acquiring rights of way and slogging through a permit process that was interrupted by stricter rules protecting threatened salmon and wetland areas.

The trail extension crosses a boggy area near Lake Cassidy. The county had to create other wetlands, both near the trail and in Lakewood near I-5, to compensate. Strider Construction of Bellingham began building the trail a little more than a year ago. It has underpasses to avoid traffic crossings at some busy streets, and bridges over forks of Quil Ceda Creek. A new stoplight at Getchell Road will allow trail users to cross that street more safely.

The fishing pier at Lake Cassidy will only be accessible from the trail, although handicapped parking spaces with a key-card access gate are planned, Krandel said.

Horses will have their own 6-foot-wide dirt path parallel to the 12-foot-wide paved trail. Plans call for horse camping areas and trailer parking areas.

The project is not done. Krandel and the trail coalition have shifted their focus to extending both ends of the trail.

Snohomish County officials will conduct opening ceremonies for the new 10.3-mile stretch of the Centennial Trail at noon today at a new trailhead just west of N. Machias Road near Lake Stevens.

The new stretch will open to the public at 12:30 p.m.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and County Councilman John Koster will host the celebration at 20th Street NE and Machias Road.

For the ceremonies, parking and shuttle service will be available at Mount Pilchuck Elementary School, 12808 20th St. NE, or the U.S. post office in the 1700 block of Main Street in Lake Stevens.

The next push will be north, where design work is 80 percent complete to extend the trail another eight miles from Arlington to the Skagit County line near Pilchuck Tree Farm. Funding, $1.75 million, is pending in the Legislature.

Also key is getting rights-of-way for a 1.5-mile section between 152nd and 172nd streets NE, as well as a short section along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line between 204th Street NE and downtown Arlington. The railroad has not been cooperative, Krandel said. The city already has paved sections of trail downtown.

To the south, the long-term vision is to take the trail from Snohomish to Everett, linking it with the Interurban Trail and then to others to King County.

For the many volunteers who have lobbied for the trail, the work has been a labor of love.

“It’s also a pressure relief valve” for everybody to take advantage of, Wynne said. “You can relieve that stress from the daily grind.”

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara contributed to this report. Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or smorris@heraldnet.com.

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