By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
A paved, 37-mile section of the trail now connects Blyn in east Clallam County to the Elwha River west of Port Angeles.
The nonmotorized, multipurpose trail supports area commuters, the North Olympic Discovery Marathon and a growing number of out-of-town recreationalists, James said.
The county is working with state, federal, private and tribal partners to continue blazing the trail west. Once completed, the trail will connect Port Townsend to LaPush and become part of a cross-state trail network from the Pacific Ocean to Spokane.
“It's going to tie into all of our communities along the way: Sequim, Blyn, Port Angeles, Forks and some of our tribal communities like LaPush,” James told a crowd of about 50 at Monday's Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel.
Much of the Olympic Discovery Trail route follows World War I-era railroad grades, including the Spruce Railroad on north shores of Lake Crescent.
Clallam County is working with Olympic National Park to restore the 3.5-mile Spruce Railroad Trail and two tunnels.
“I really can't do this project without their help,” James said of the park.
The county in 2009 received a $999,000 grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office to restore the Spruce Railroad Trail for multiple user groups.
The entire Olympic Discovery Trail is intended to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
After receiving public feedback on an environmental analysis that called for a crushed rock surface, park officials revised the proposal last year to allow an 8-foot-wide paved surface for cyclists and wheelchair users with 3.5 feet of gravel on either side for hikers and equestrians.
“It works for all the users that we want to support on the trail,” James said. “It was good to see that kind of an outcome.”
The Olympic Discovery Trail will allow cyclists and others to get around Lake Crescent without the hazards of U.S. Highway 101 traffic on the south side of the lake.
“Part of the reason that we're doing this project is the current [Spruce Railroad] trail is basically falling into the lake and has not been well-maintained over the last few years,” James said.
James said it probably will take three or four years to restore the Spruce Railroad Trail because of limited construction seasons designed to protect endangered species such as the marbled murrelet.
Clallam County already has built a paved, 6.5-mile segment of the trail from the west end of the Spruce Railroad Trail to near the top of Fairholme Hill. A 1.5-mile continuing segment is under construction.
After crossing U.S. Highway 101 west of Fairholme Hill, trail users will follow a soon-to-be-paved U.S. Forest Service Road another 6.5 miles to Cooper Ranch Road near Sappho. That shared-use segment will be built this summer.
In a few years, the county plans to build a paved trail segment from the Elwha River valley to Lake Crescent via the state Highway 112 corridor and the Lyre River.
The new leg will augment a 25-mile, off-road “Adventure Route” segment that was built for hikers and mountain bikers over the past six years by Clallam County inmate work crews and teams of volunteers.
In west Port Angeles, crews last summer paved the Olympic Discovery Trail from 10th Street to Lower Elwha Road.
Meanwhile, the Larry Scott Memorial Trail, which is a link of the Olympic Discovery Trail, is taking shape in East Jefferson County.
Paved trail now goes 7.3 miles from the Port Townsend Boat Haven to a newly opened trailhead on Milo Curry Road just west of Jefferson County International Airport.
The latest 1.3-mile section opened in December.
The Peninsula Trails Coalition, which spearheaded the idea of the Olympic Discovery Trail in the late 1980s and helped built a series of trestles between Port Angeles and Sequim, is planning the portion of the Larry Scott trail from Milo Curry Road to the trailhead known as Four Corners Crossing.
Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Russ Veenema said he and James have been working to promote the Olympic Discovery Trail.
“We feel that the trail has got the potential to be one of the biggest draws for our tourism product,” Veenema said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.