Whitehorse Trail at Oso mudslide rebuilt, to open next year

OSO — The mile-long stretch of the Whitehorse Trail that was wiped out during the deadly 2014 Oso mudslide has been rebuilt.

The new length of trail isn’t yet open to the public, Snohomish County parks director Tom Teigen said. The segment likely will open in March. A memorial bicycle ride is planned between Arlington and Darrington around the three-year mark since the mudslide killed 43 people in a tight-knit neighborhood off Highway 530. The ride is part of the plan for Arlington and Darrington’s economic recovery and the America’s Best Communities competition, in which the two-town partnership is a finalist.

The Whitehorse Trail is a 27-mile stretch from Arlington to Darrington that follows an old railroad grade and parallels Highway 530 and the North Fork Stillaguamish River for most of the route. It connects to the Centennial Trail in Arlington and has long been seen as a key link for transportation and recreation in north Snohomish County. The Centennial and Whitehorse trails together create 62 continuous miles. They are bicycle, pedestrian and equestrian friendly.

However, Whitehorse is not yet complete. Along with the rebuild through the slide area, multiple other projects have been in the works for several years. All of them are nearing the finish line, Teigen said. The trail should be complete — including bridge restorations, clearing and hardening of the path and new crossings on Highway 530 — by October of next year.

The new section of trail through the slide area was built using FEMA money. A private donation is covering the overhaul of 18 bridges along the trail and the county set aside funds or landed grants for other work. The trail projects have brought together experts and funding from the federal, state, county and local levels of government, Teigen said.

Near Trafton, workers rebuilt a portion of the trail that “has been a missing link for 20 years since people stole all the ballasts,” Teigen said. There are two more bridges to redo along the trail. They’ll soon have new decks and railings for short-term use, but the bridge near the Stillaguamish Country Club needs to be replaced, Teigen said. That is set to be done next summer.

Two new pedestrian crossings are going in on Highway 530. They should be done before the trail opens.

“They’re going to be basic white lines, and basically trail users will need to yield,” he said, noting that no stoplights or flashing lights are planned at the crossings. “People will need to pay attention.”

Both crossing are near the Cicero pond and bridge between Arlington and Darrington, a popular area for bird watching, senior parks planner and project manager Amy Lucas said. About a mile between the two crossing is going to be paved. Another 20 miles of trail are going to be resurfaced with fine, compressed gravel that is easy to walk or ride on.

After the trail opens, additional projects are planned as funding becomes available, Lucas said. Ideas include adding campgrounds along the route and creating a connection to a new mountain biking area outside of Darrington.

There’s been talk of putting in memorial benches along the rebuilt section of trail for those lost in the slide. Final decisions are in the hands of the family members who lost loved ones, Teigen said.

While building new fish culverts along that stretch of trail, workers also set aside about 50 big river rocks that could be etched with names and possibly images of the slide victims. That’s one idea of many that have come up in discussions with families about a memorial, said Heather Kelly, longterm mudslide recovery lead for the county.

“No decisions have been made about the longterm memorial, from where it will be to what materials will be used to what it will look like,” she said. “The county is securing things like the rocks and the space so that if the families decide those are resources they’d like to make use of, they’ll be available.”

Families have previously stressed the importance of memorializing their loved ones in a way that is natural and part of the landscape. A memorial grove of cedar trees was planted in 2014 alongside Highway 530 and the trail. Another possible addition that has been suggested is some kind of archway that “really delineates the site as sacred ground,” Teigen said.

Whatever decisions the families make, planning a memorial will take more time, Kelly and Teigen said.

“It is a really exciting time in the history of the overall trail system, and in particular what’s going on at Whitehorse,” Teigen said. “But my priority is making sure we’re putting families first about what’s happening in the slide area.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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