History of Olympic Discovery Trail and Peninsula Trails Coalition

1915 Railroad Development and Passenger Service

Old Number 858.  Lauren Scraforri Collection

Old Number 858. Lauren Scraforri Collection

The history of the ODT project truly begins with the construction of the first railroad grades in Clallam County. The Port Townsend and Southern lines were built in 1887. The Seattle, Port Angeles and Western Railway lines were laid between Port Angeles and Discovery Bay in 1914 and 1915—the year passenger rail service between Port Angeles and Port Townsend was begun, ultimately expanding westward as far as Twin Rivers.

1931 Passenger Service Discontinued

As progress dictated, by 1931, rail passenger service had been eclipsed by the automobile, and was discontinued. The rail lines were operated then by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad,and were utilized solely for freight and timber hauling.

1985 Railroad Demise

In 1980 the Seattle and North Coast Railroad acquired the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad lines and tried to revive passenger train service between Port Angeles and Port Townsend. This effort failed. By 1985 the train was out of service, and track removal had begun.

1988 Origin of Peninsula Trails Coalition (PTC)

The Coalition grew out of discussions between 3 young peninsula bicyclists who were interested in creating a public access trail for non-motorized travel between Port Townsend, Port Angeles, and the Pacific Coast. The goal was to use a recently abandoned railroad corridor. Unfortunately, the railroad quickly sold portions of their right of way. Despite these losses, the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) idea took root, and the impetus was found to develop a trail that would eventually use sections of the old railroad grade.

1991 First Trestle and Bridge Saved

ODT crossing over Dungeness River Bridge

ODT crossing over Dungeness River Bridge

Through a variety of state and federal grants and the enthusiasm of several local residents and entities, the 3000 ft section of rail corridor that spans the Dungeness River west of Sequim became the first acquired and created section of the Olympic Discovery Trail. In 1992 the PTC coordinated the efforts of several state agencies and local citizens in a massive (1000 hours) volunteer effort that turned the 95 year old, 600 ft railroad bridge and trestle into a pedestrian walkway. This section of the ODT is now part of Railroad Bridge Park and the Dungeness River Audubon Center. The park is owned by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and managed through a partnership with the Tribe, the Dungeness River Audubon Center, the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, and the National Audubon Society.

1993 A Critical County Plan Adopted

Clallam County’s Countywide Policy Plan (required by the state’s Growth Management Act) was adopted. This document contained transportation policies to support non-motorized transportation projects linking various parks and communities on the north Olympic Peninsula. Without this vital piece of legislation the likelihood of the ODT becoming a reality is doubtful.

The interest in non-motorized transportation coincided with renewed emphasis by the federal government in alternative forms of transportation. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act of 1990 (ISTEA) provided strong support for alternate forms of transportation. Additionally, Washington State required 0.42% of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax receipts be set aside for the development of non-motorized transportation. Thus was begun the funding stream that has allowed continued land procurement and trail development—a marriage of federal and state tax monies to support non-motorized transportation options.

1995 First Trail Construction Grant Awarded

Clallam County received its first grant funding in 1995--ISTEA monies to purchase 1.3 miles of former railroad grade between Carlsborg and Kitchen Dick Rds in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley. The ODT—at that time, only a gravel surface--was on its way.

1998 The ODT, Eastward

In 1998, the first section (2 miles) of railway corridor running west from Port Townsend was opened to trail users. Named The Larry Scott Memorial Trail to honor one of the early cyclist visionaries (and founding PTC member), this initial effort has today grown to 6 miles. It will eventually be 26 miles of trail as it rounds Discovery Bay and meets the terminus of Clallam County’s east end at the Jefferson-Clallam county line.

1999 Volunteers Rebuild Morse Creek Trestle and Bridge

With financial assistance from the City of Port Angeles and grant monies from the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, trail construction was done through the Deer Park Overlook and west to Morse Ck. PTC organized another massive volunteer effort, and refurbished the railroad bridge and trestle. This 400 ft structure is a critical link. It joins upland to spectacular sea level views as the ODT skirts the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and gently meanders into Port Angeles, meeting the Waterfront Trail. An additional 5 miles of connecting trail was also opened in 1999.

2000 Two Additional Links and a Pedestrian Bridge

Trail segments (totaling 4 miles) between Siebert Ck and Sequim, and between Morse Ck and Gasman Rd were completed; the Siebert Ck pedestrian bridge (purchased salvage) was installed.

2003 Third Railroad Bridge and Trestle Rehabilitated

Johnson Creek Trestle approaching Sequim from the east

Johnson Creek Trestle approaching Sequim from the east

In 2003 the PTC brought together volunteer workers and refurbished the elegantly curved Johnson Creek Trestle, making the ODT at Whitefeather Wy, the then eastern terminus in Clallam County.

2004 McDonald Creek Bridging and a Connector Trail Completed

Using the undercarriage of a surplus railroad flat car, the county constructed an 89 ft bridge across McDonald (also known as McDonnell) Ck. A federal grant was awarded to Clallam County to connect the ODT from Kendall Rd to Priest Rd. The trail was contiguous at this point from Sequim’s eastside at Whitefeather Wy to downtown Port Angeles.

2005 Adventure Route Segment Begun (see below)

2008 Volunteers Save Barker Road Railroad Bridge

In the late winter-early spring of 2008, PTC volunteers rehabilitated a severely neglected railroad bridge off Barker Rd, west of Sequim Bay State Park. This bridge, 144 ft in length, required by-hand removal and replacement of 72 railroad ties, spreading of a concrete deck, and construction of handrail. There is now a scenic overlook with a viewing platform--utilizing some of the salvaged railroad ties.

Also in 2008, the Sequim Sunrise Rotary Club completed 0.5 miles of horse, barbed, and smooth wire fencing along the new section of the ODT west of Priest Rd. The Thursday Volunteer Trail Crew did additional trail work there, and the Clallam County Chain Gang planted vegetation and installed a drip irrigation system --mitigation for designated bald eagle habitat. (As you pass by, take a moment to look for the eagles. While they have built a new nest at the Dungeness River, they still land in the Douglas firs along the trail near Priest Rd.)

2009 New Elwha River Bridge Dedicated

Bridge over the Elwha River

Bridge over the Elwha River

Located between State Hwy 112 and the Lower Elwha Tribal Center, the bridge opened in the fall of 2009—replacing one in service since 1913. It features a unique double deck 85 ft above the river. The upper-most section is for motorized vehicles (bicycles allowed); the lower 14 ft wide segment (suspended by 2.5 inch thick cables) is for pedestrians and cyclists. This dynamic structure affords spectacular views of the Elwha river valley, and in the fall, migrating Coho salmon.

In the spring and summer of 2009 a near-mile extension of the ODT was completed eastward from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Campus, thus completing extension of the trail from Whitefeather Wy to Blyn Rd.

2010 Railroad Bridge Park Trestle Redesigned

The Dungeness River trestle’s east approach was reconfigured in April to improve access for tandem-riding cyclists, recumbent riders, and those cyclists pulling trailers. The initial constraints in 1992 of a 3000 ft by 100 ft right-of-way necessitated 2 tight and difficult-to-negotiate turns on the ramp. These are gone now, and users enjoy smooth, easy access to and from both ends of the bridge.

2012 Trail Completed to Elwha River

A three year volunteer project constructed 2 miles of trail on the former RR grade to the west PA city limits. The city built a 220 ft. trail bridge over Dry Creek to complete the connection through the city. The County and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe collaborated to construct 1.5 miles of paved trail west to the river.

2014 Major West End Sections Opened

Clallam County completed a 6 mile segment crossing the Sol Duc River, through mature forest to the Camp Creek Trailhead. They also extended the previously paved 6.5 miles from Lake Crescent by 1.5 miles past the Sol Duc Rd and put in a trail crossing of Hwy 101.

The city of Port Angeles completed a new bridge over Ennis Creek and eliminated the much disliked 0.5 mile gravel detour known as the "septic detour" because it ran past the sewage treatment plant.

Jefferson County added 1.5 miles to extend the Larry Scott Memorial Trail portion of the ODT from Port Townsend almost to 4 Corners.

Today (2015)

With 56.5 miles completed of the 120+ mile route, the ODT offers many options for scenic, off- road trips. These are in 3 sections: (1) 7.5 miles from Port Townsend to 4 Corners, (2) 35 miles from Blyn, through Sequim and Port Angeles, to the Elwha River crossing, and (3) 14 miles from Lake Crescent to Cooper Ranch Rd. with 6 additional miles under construction.

The ODT is a paved, safe, family-friendly pedestrian and cyclist by-way, with many miles of along-side horse path outside the urban areas. An extensive group of volunteer trail advocates works to maintain both the ODT and the Adventure Route it in near pristine condition. All except the newest sections of the trail are adopted; mechanized work parties mow the shoulders, blow leaves and forest litter, maintain bridges, and trim back brush.


2005 Let the Adventure Begin

Planned as a single-track off-road alternative route for horsemen, mountain bicyclists and hikers, it is an often physically challenging 25 miles--using a combination of three-foot wide hard-pack trail, (temporally) DNR gravel roads, and private timber lands. Whether on horseback, cycle, or afoot, the Adventure Route is an exhilarating, no-services, out-in-the-woods experience from the State Hwy 112 parking lot to Lake Crescent. Sustainable 8% grades are frequent, and tight downhill switchbacks are thrilling and breathtaking.

Since construction began in 2005, more than 14 miles of trail and more than 100 bridges have been hand-built by the Clallam County Chain Gang and the volunteer Thursday Trail Crew (a cohort of primarily retirees). The Adventure Route is maintained by adopter members of the Backcountry Horsemen Association and interested nearby residents.

Using hand tools,chain saws, and mechanical wheelbarrows the Chain Gang--with following support and often similar work by the Thursday Trail Crew--has removed duff, brush, stumps and roots; hauled rock and gravel; packed and leveled trail; felled, cut and stacked logs for trail boundary, bridges and stringers; built turnpikes and crib walls; dug and trenched wet areas; and buried culverts. These two groups have tackled all of these tasks plus contributed toward maintenance of the trail system as winter storms pass, often ravaging trees and freshly made trail.

THE FUTURE of the Olympic Discovery Trail—as of June 2010

Funded by a Recreation and Conservation Organization grant, project planning is now underway for improvements to the Spruce Railroad Trail, a part of Olympic National Park that winds along the north shore of Lake Crescent. Negotiations are in progress to make this 4-mile former railroad grade passable for road bicyclists and wheelchair users, in addition to retaining the best features of the current trail for mountain bicyclists, equestrians, and hikers. This project will examine the feasibility of restoring 2 historic railroad tunnels (460 ft and 190 ft in length) for trail use. Planned trail improvements include an all-weather hardened surface for year around ADA and road bike accessibility, retention of a separated horse/mountain bike natural tread trail surface, retention of the tunnel bypass natural tread trail—to provide Devil’s Punchbowl access--improvements to surface drainage, and improvements to stream crossings on the grade.

When complete in 2012, the upgraded Spruce Railroad Trail will connect with the Spruce Railroad grade work completed in 2010 by Clallam County which extended the Spruce Railroad Trail a total of 6.4 miles to the top of Fairholm Hill. This trail now combines an 8 ft wide paved surface for road bicyclists and wheelchair users with a parallel, unpaved natural tread trail 4 ft in width, which provides for equestrian, hiker, and mountain bike user groups.

The railroad grade restoration projects, when complete and joined together, will provide a safe, traffic-separated, multi-user pathway traversing the Lake Crescent corridor, allowing all non-motorized trail users the ability to avoid the hazardous US Hwy 101 route with its high traffic volumes and extremely narrow to non-existent shoulders. This segment will offer one of the few ADA-accessible trails in the National Park system, and will nearly triple Olympic National Park’s wheelchair accessible trail options.

At the top of Fairholm Hill on Hwy 101, the trail will leave the former railroad grade for a short stretch--due to a lack of a tunnel to under pass Hwy 101--to complete a connection to the Mount Mueller Trail. The trail reaches a safe surface-crossing point on the highway 1.5 miles after leaving the railroad grade alignment. After crossing over Hwy 101 the future trail will quickly rejoin the railroad grade, and proceed westward to the Sol Duc River area.

The trail west of the Sol Duc River will be under construction in 2010 and 2011, utilizing a Secure Rural Schools grant funding source. This portion of the trail will extend westward on the old railroad route to its intersection with the Cooper Ranch Rd. The trail will then utilize the low-traffic volume Cooper Ranch and Mary Clark Rds for the next 8 miles—to reach the Tumbling Rapids Campground area on Hwy 101, 9 miles north of Forks. Future extension of the trail will see it to Forks, south from Forks to the south Clallam County line, and west beside State Hwy 110—to reach the Pacific Ocean at La Push.

Westward from Port Angeles

The ODT through Port Angeles and west to the Elwha River is in the works. The Port Angeles City Council has approved a 4-mile route from the Waterfront Trail, uphill from Marine Dr to the Milwaukee Dr alignment, and westward across Dry Ck—where a pedestrian bridge was placed in late 2010. PTC volunteers continue to flag and clear the route, assist with grading and gravel moving, and install fencing.

These improvements will open up the trail westward to the Port Angeles city limits, at which point the trail will connect with the trail improvements on Kaycee Wy (to be constructed by the Elwha Tribe). Clallam County sought grant funding in 2010 to pave the trail route from the west end of Kaycee Wy—1.7 miles westward down the old railroad grade, to the new Elwha River Bridge.

West of the Elwha River Bridge, trail users--hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers--may utilize the 25-mile Adventure Route segment of the ODT. With the road bike-capable portion of the ODT still in the planning stage, road bicyclists may utilize the narrow shoulders of State Hwy 112, the Joyce Piedment Rd, or Hwy 101--to the narrow East Beach Rd--to access the eastern end of Lake Crescent at the Spruce Railroad trailhead. (Clallam County has mapped route alternatives for full implementation of a true multi-user trail between the Elwha River and Lake Crescent, but the development of this route will require several years of negotiations with landowners, and additional time to fund and construct the needed improvements for this 20 miles of trail.)

The Bigger Picture

A trail connecting Kitsap County with Jefferson County is in the concept stage. The Bainbridge Island Non-Motorized Group considers this a “missing link,” demonstrating the need for a connector trail that would continue the 100-mile Mountain to Sound Greenway east of the sound, to Bainbridge Island, across the Kitsap Peninsula to connect with the Olympic Discovery Trail at Discovery Bay. The Peninsula Trails Coalition is working with the North Kitsap Trails Association in this effort.

A suggested route in Jefferson County might be from the Hood Canal Bridge to Port Ludlow, moving close to Anderson Lake State Park--possibly tying in with the proposed Tri-Area Rick Tollefson Trail--and connect with the ODT somewhere near Eaglemount Rd—a spectacular viewpoint overlooking Discovery Bay.

The Bainbridge-Hood Canal Bridge route would run from downtown Winslow, along State Hwy 305 to the Agate Pass Bridge. From there likely it would turn onto Lemolo Dr and follow north to Poulsbo, along the waterfront at Liberty Bay. It would cross State Hwy 305, move to Big Valley Rd, and then meet State Hwy 3 just east of the Hood Canal Bridge.

The Kitsap-Jefferson county connection could become part of the developing North Kitsap String of Pearls—a cycling route that links the region’s historic waterfront villages with a system of interconnecting trails and open space corridors.

May you be young enough and fortunate enough to ride the dream!

Revised: July 2010

Photo Gallery - hover cursor over image for caption, click to enlarge

Old Number 858.  Lauren Scraforri Collection Port Townsend rail dock (now removed) Train leaving Port Angeles mills Johnson Creek Trestle approaching Sequim from the east