Governor Inslee (2nd from left) with riders on the Dungeness River Railroad Bridge, Olympic Discovery Trail (Jesse Major/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)

The governor was honored with an award from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

A shared enthusiasm for trail networks and the unique recreational opportunities the Olympic Peninsula offers set the tone for this year’s in-person board convening of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) in Sequim. RTC is based in the other Washington, Washington DC, and the 135-mile Olympic Discovery Trail is what lured them here.

Governor Jay Inslee (right) with riders on the Olympic Discovery Trail, at the Jamestown S’klallam Tribal Center, Blyn WA (Linda Hanlon)

The Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) stretches from Port Townsend to La Push across lush forests, alongside mountains, farms, and shorelines, and in 2019 it was designated by RTC as the official western end of their 3,700-mile, 12-state, multi-use trail corridor, called the Great American Rail-Trail.

Poster of the 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail (Linda Hanlon)

A Jamestown S’Klallam welcome was given by Theresa Lehman, Tribal Council Treasurer. Attending the receptions hosted by RTC at the Jamestown S”Klallam Tribe’s 7 Cedars Hotel and Red Cedar Hall at the Tribal Center were local trail advocates – the Peninsula Trails Coalition, the newly formed Puget Sound to Pacific Collaborative, Bainbridge Island Parks & Trails Foundation, the Washington Backcountry Horsemen, Sequim Wheelmen’s Adaptive Bike Program, Ian McKay (Ian’s Ride), Cascade Bicycle Club, Washington Trails Association  – Washington Representative Steve Tharinger, Clallam and Jefferson County councilmembers, tribal representatives, and many others.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national voice for trails since 1986, visited the Puget Sound region to also bestow Governor Jay Inslee with the annual Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion award for 2023. State Parks Commissioner Sophia Danenberg praised the Governor’s work on the trail system.

“Governor Inslee has forged a legacy – and it is the state’s trails and parks,” Danenberg said. “Trails and parks are a nexus of cultural, natural, and economic values. Trails welcome all – regardless of age or ability.”

Danenberg noted this wasn’t the only trail to see improvements.

“The Governor has considered the parks as being complementary and not competitive to development and his support has helped fund important trail gaps like the rebuilding of the Palouse to Cascades Beverly Bridge and the Teko and Renslow Trestles, and the Olympic Discovery Trail through Jefferson County’s Anderson Lake State Park,” she added.

Kevin Chao, RTC President, Governor Jay Inslee, Jon Cofsky RTC Board Chair, Brandi Horton, RTC VP of Communications (Jesse Major/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)

In their news release, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy noted the importance of trails to the climate work for which the Governor has become known.

“For decades, Governor Inslee has championed the role of trails in addressing significant challenges facing our communities – building climate resilience, generating economic development and delivering quality of life,” said RTC President Ryan Chao.

“He has leveraged his position to raise the financial and political capital needed to unlock incredibly difficult projects that are transformative for the people they serve, the regions they connect and the entire nation,” Chao added. “He is raising the bar for the country’s elected officials, while showcasing how integral trail and active transportation networks are in addressing the intertwined issues of climate change and our country’s economic future.”

2023 Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion Award given to Governor Jay Inslee, June 7, 2023, Blyn, WA.

Trail work is a throughline in Inslee’s career.

“Governor Inslee’s dedication to the state’s trail system, and the impact that trail connectivity can deliver for the well-being of people, places and the planet, began when he was a state legislator, and has continued in his role as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and now as governor. Most recently, Governor Inslee championed a $1.3 billion investment for active transportation and trail projects under the Move Ahead Washington program, the largest investment in trails, walking and biking in the state’s history, as part of plans to accelerate the development and connectivity of transportation infrastructure across the state,” Chao said.

Many people in attendance noted numerous times the need to be working together which makes everyone’s efforts stronger. A highlighted effort to demonstrate the reach and depth of this kind of collaborating is the newly formed, Puget Sound to the Pacific Collaborative (Bainbridge Island Parks & Trails Foundation, Peninsula Trails Coalition, North Kitsap Trails Association) which have applied for a competitive federal Department of Transportation RAISE grant.

In March 2023, The Urbanist reported on this RAISE grant application. “Filling the gaps would unite two separate regional trails on either side of the Hood Canal Bridge: the Olympic Discovery trail in Jefferson and Clallam Counties, and the Sound to Olympics trail in Kitsap County. If awarded, the $16.2 million request would fund planning and design on 34 separate segments to create a single trail that is being called the Puget Sound to Pacific Trail.”

The City of Port Angeles is the lead applicant. The full application can be found at: Awardees will be announced shortly on June 28.

A few key shifts in thinking about multi-use trail networks were also discussed. For example, the pandemic prompted people seeking safe and healthy activities to use area trails of all kinds — which they did in droves. This new interest is key to raising the profile of trails as essential to human well-being – for good health, mental renewal, time in nature, to reconnect with family and friends, and more.

Multi-use trails are catalysts for change because they show us how we can live better by connecting communities, being valued economic amenities for residents and visitors alike, and, most importantly, for providing safe, additional active transportation for all regardless of age or ability,” said Washington Trails Association’s CEO Jaime Loucky. “It’s time to look at the bigger picture, at landscapes and systems, that serve many purposes and the needs of those nearby.”

Recently, the group published a new study, called the Hike, Bike, Walk Study, to better illustrate the values of trails, landscapes and the economy.

Adaptive tandem bicycle used by the Sequim Wheelers Adaptive Bike Program. (Linda Hanlon)

Many of those attending this convening of multi-use trails advocates, agencies, jurisdictions, and others, had nothing but awe-inducing things to say about the Olympic Discovery Trail and the north Olympic Peninsula. Locals like Jefferson County Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour get to enjoy the natural beauty all the time.

“This gathering has been another opportunity to shed light on the trail’s values, most importantly, that it is accessible to everyone,” Eisenhour said. “I love the trail for my own health and for the time outdoors that I enjoy while on the trail.”

Peninsula Trails Coalition Board President Jeff Bohman added, “Back in 2019 when Rails-to-Trails Conservancy added the Olympic Discovery Trail as the official west end of the Great American Rail-Trail, its beauty and values became more well-known. Our group has been helping to develop this trail for almost 35 years. With the encouragement and help from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we were able to join with Bainbridge Island multi-use trails advocates and government entities to create the Puget Sound to the Pacific Collaborative and to apply for the USDOT RAISE grant which will help us close the trail gaps between the Hood Canal and further west to help complete the remaining Olympic Discovery Trail gaps all the way to La Push.”

North Olympic Peninsula trail advocates standing in front of a stage at the 7 Cedars Hotel in Blyn, WA
Olympic Peninsula multi-use trail advocates for the Olympic Discovery Trail and the Puget Sound to Pacific Collective. (Linda Hanlon)

As the state continues to develop more extensive trail networks it is clear that we are all lucky beneficiaries of these gems. We are very fortunate, as a state, to also have an active transportation office as part of our Washington State Department of Transportation. (WSDOT). Featured at the award ceremony was a panel that included, WSDOT’s Active Transportation Director Barbara Chamberlain, Cascade Bicycle Club’s Policy Director Vicky Clarke, and Washington Trails Association’s CEO Jaime Loucky. One takeaway from this talk about multi-use trail networks is the need for more investment.

“We are enjoying the trails and we are passionate, but we also need the dollars,” Clarke said. “We need local governments, the corporations – and all ways possible – to support the trails that we love.”

RTC award luncheon trails panel: Barb Chamberlain, WSDOT Active Transportation Director, Jaime Loucky WA Trails Assoc. CEO, Vicky Clarke Cascade Bicycle Club Policy Director (Linda Hanlon)

This week’s Rails-to-Trails Conservancy visit took place on the lands of the Jamestown S’Klallam, with visits to the homes of the Lower Elwha, Chimakum, the Quileute, and the Makah people, who have lived here since time immemorial.

Improvements to the 135-mile Olympic Discovery Trail will connect these lands and the people and natural beauty contained in them like never before.

Article Author
Linda Hanlon next to a tree and rhododendron bush.
Linda Hanlon

Linda Hanlon is the Lead Editor of The Urbanist. She cares about community-building and sharing smart ideas between communities, affordable housing, and active transportation. Safety, affordability, and access for all – regardless of age or physical ability – are starting points for her when thinking about livability. She lives in Port Townsend on the north Olympic Peninsula, the ancestral lands and home of the S’Klallam people.