Maybe you’ve encountered a WTA work crew on the trail. With their green hardhats and big smiles, they’re hard to miss. We want to shout a big THANK YOU to each and every one of those 3,300 enthusiastic volunteers who work hard year-round — for a day or a week at a time — to keep trails safe and hikable.
Near and far, WTA volunteers have improved 190 hiking routes across the state this year, smashing our previous record of 170 just last year. Here are some of this year’s most notable projects.
Take a look and see where we've worked near you, then get out there and see how the trail looks, or sign up for a work party to pitch in!
Pratt Connector Trail
Location: Snoqualmie -- North Bend
Round Trip: 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
The Pratt Connector Trail is finished! Starting on Earth Day 2010, volunteers began rerouting 3.25 miles of trail along the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River outside North Bend. The new route was completed in July 2013—some 80 work parties later. Now hikers can take a lush walk to Rainy Lake, or they can connect to the Pratt Valley and hike to Pratt Lake via the Middle Fork Road.
Both safety and sustainability figure into the new route designed by the U.S. Forest Service. WTA volunteers brought the trail out of the floodplain by building a new trail uphill above the river. The new route eliminates the dangerous ford of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie, previously required by hikers using the old route. As plans to pave the Middle Fork access road get under way, this new trail is sure to become increasingly popular with hikers.
Location: Snoqualmie Pass -- North Bend
Round Trip: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,100 feet
Ask an enthusiastic hiker about Mailbox Peak in North Bend, and you’ll be met with raised eyebrows, widened eyes and a sigh. Notorious for its straight-up route, the popular user-built trail has been utilized as a training hike for years. But the heavily used hiker-built trail has been a lesson in erosion, with tree roots exposed and dangerously steep spots where the tread has been worn away.
To remedy the danger and protect the recently established Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resource Conservation Area, WTA joined with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, EarthCorps and Washington Conservation Corps to create a new 5.25-mile alternate route that safely and sustainably transports hikers up the mountain. Over the last two years WTA has logged 50 days at the site, with many including youth volunteers from YMCA’s BOLD Mountain School program. The new trail is due to open in 2014.
Northwest Washington and Islands
Location: Puget Sound
Round Trip: 3.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 830 feet
The San Juan Preservation Trust recently expanded the Turtleback Mountain Preserve on Orcas Island by acquiring 140 acres that had separated the popular Turtleback Mountain Preserve from the beautiful Turtlehead Preserve.The result is the protection of the Turtle’s entire ridgeline.
The Trust called in WTA to help create a new trail that culminates in a stunning 360-degree view never before accessible to the public. Along with members of the San Juan Preservation Trust and the San Juan Land Bank,WTA volunteers spent a week in May building nearly 1,500 feet of new trail. A ribbon-cutting ceremony in August celebrated its completion.
Larrabee State Park
Location: Northwest Washington near Bellingham
Round Trip: 8.2 miles
Since 2008, WTA volunteers have spent 134 days building and maintaining trails in Washington's first state park. This year we teamed up with the Chuckanut Conservancy to build a new hiker-only trail that will connect the Cyrus Gates Overlook trailhead with Lost Lake, creating a loop option for hikers.
The new trail is an engineering marvel with 87 steps on the upper part as it descends a steep hill to traverse the base of an impressive sandstone cliff. Crews spent more than 25 days this year building some of these steps and carving out a path through the abundant ferns, as well as providing maintenance on other trails in the park. It should be open to hikers in the spring of 2014, and is part of a comprehensive plan to increase recreation opportunities within the park.
Location: Buckskin Ridge, Diamond Creek, West Fork Pasayten River, and many others!
As the Pasayten’s legions of fans know, some of the trails here just aren’t what they used to be. Declining funding for Forest Service trail crews over the last two decades, wildfire and extreme weather all add up to big maintenance backlogs in one of Washington’s most remote and beloved wilderness areas. Fortunately, WTA is continuing its partnership with the Forest Service to keep the eastern slopes of the North Cascades a backpacker’s paradise.
In 2013, two Volunteer Vacation crews and three BCRTs ventured into the backcountry to log out and brush more than 10 different trails, as well as construct two bridges over Diamond Creek and the West Fork Pasayten River. The beautiful, sturdy bridges will be appreciated by hikers on long backcountry treks for seasons to come.
Mount Rainier National Park
Location: Mount Rainier National Park
Round Trip: 92 miles
The legendary 93-mile trail circumnavigating Mount Rainier takes quite a beating every year from the Northwest’s often-capricious winter weather. Fortunately, WTA volunteers have been a regular fixture on the trail since 2005.
This year, we turned our attention to a landslide near the Carbon Glacier. Both youth and adult Volunteer Vacation crews trooped to Ipsut Creek Campground this summer. They spent five days slinging mud to clear the trail for hikers navigating the Wonderland Trail. Additionally, a BCRT at Indian Bar worked on rerouting a washed-out portion of the trail, installing rock steps and cleaning out clogged drainages. And near Longmire, volunteers focused on brushing out several sections of trail that badly needed attention.
Enchanted Valley - O'Neil Pass
Location: Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park
Round Trip: 32 miles
This August, nine self-supported volunteers — forming a WTA Backcountry Response Team (BCRT) — hiked more than 16 miles into Olympic National Park with gear,tools and food to camp and work for five days. From a base camp above the Enchanted Valley at White Creek Meadow, they cleared the length of the O’Neil Pass Trail between Anderson Pass and O’Neil Pass, a remote location that rarely receives maintenance.
The work was strenuous. The volunteer crew cleared more than 30 huge logs along an 8-mile stretch. And if an extensive log-out wasn’t enough, they finished with some detail work, brushing and grubbing along the trail. The work that was required, and the sheer number of miles hiked with tools in hand, makes this one of the most challenging BCRT trips that WTA has ever held.This legendary trail is part of what Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell recently named as the world’s best hike: Dosewallips to Enchanted Valley to Lake Quinault.
Nimbus Knob Trail
Location: Spokane - Dishman Hills
Round Trip: 2.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 680 feet
The Nimbus Knob Trail was years in the making, and would not have happened without the hard work and collaboration of WTA and partners, including the Dishman Hills Conservancy, Spokane County Parks and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
In April, WTA volunteers built a new loop trail to Nimbus Knob, part of a larger effort to address the tangle of trails and informal boot paths at Dishman Hills that have been causing ecological damage and wildlife disturbances. This is part of along-term effort to address local trail issues and improve hiking opportunities for area residents.
Ape Cave Viewpoint
Location: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Round Trip: 2 miles
Mount St. Helens offers fascinating views of an ecosystem in recovery and a mountain bouncing back from disaster. The Ape Cave Viewpoint Trail is part of the Forest Service’s multi-year plan to increase recreation opportunities within the national volcanic monument.
WTA broke ground on the new trail, near the popular Ape Caves Trail, last fall. The work proceeded quickly thanks to a strong partnership with the Forest Service and the Mount St. Helens Institute, as well as enthusiastic volunteers who turned out in droves. The trail was scheduled to be finished and dedicated in October, but because of bad weather and the government shutdown, curious hikers will have to wait until next year.Future plans call for a lookout at the end of the trail, offering new and improved views of this iconic mountain.