In a county of disjointed land, separated by water, locals are looking to create walkable connections on their islands.
San Juan County residents want to access popular island destinations without motorized transportation by connecting existing footpaths, often through private property.
“Other cultures have an expectation with private property to share land for trails,” said Kirm Taylor, who co-founded the Lopez Community Trail Network. “We are inspired by England and Norway.”
Through October, the public was invited to test a potential new trail from the ferry terminal to the village on Lopez Island. The roughly 5-mile trail links existing paths in Odlin County Park and a land bank preserve through seven private properties, which was permitted by the landowners.
Volunteers estimate at least 100 hikes were taken over the month. They surveyed the property owners and the route’s walkers to answer questions like when the trail would be used and what problems could arise.
“We want to build a model on Lopez [to create trails], and use it as a way to help other folks,” said Taylor.
The proposed route is featured in the county’s latest nonmotorized transportation plan, which includes potential new trails on San Juan, Lopez, Orcas and Shaw. The possible new path is also part of a longer trail that the Lopez Community Trail Network members have annually walked for the past six years. Over two days in September, members hiked the entire length of the island, from the northern tip where the ferry docks to near Iceberg Point in the south. Taylor said they received permission from about 26 property owners and five agencies to walk the roughly 18-mile route. About 80 percent of the trail is not on public roads, he added, but private and public land.
According to the county’s nonmotorized transportation plan, 77 percent of the islands’ residents ranked trails in parks and natural areas as a high priority. To meet those needs, the plan proposes $15 million in capital projects through 2022, including purchasing property through the land bank and development and renovation projects by San Juan County Parks and Public Works.
Trail and pedestrian improvements are also part of the county’s latest six-year transportation improvement program, known as TIP, which was approved on Oct. 23. Projects include completing an existing trail network on Orcas along Enchanted Forest Road to paths along Lover’s Lane and the airport, as well as making improvements to the Lopez Road trail on Lopez Island. Paths linking Deer Harbor destinations on Orcas Island are also scheduled to be finished this year.
On San Juan, Chinmayo Ricketts is maintaining a path near her home in the affordable housing neighborhood at the end of Grover Street. The trail runs from the San Juan Community Home Trust neighborhood to the public elementary school. Kids and parents may avoid using the road by walking the backstretch of the neighborhood, through an easement on private property on Sunday Drive to Grover Street, where the school is located.
The small path is just the beginning of Ricketts’ vision of safer, nonmotorized options on the island. She noted the health, environmental and safety benefits created from adding walkable trails, as opposed to roads for pedestrians and vehicles.
“My dream goal for our island would be [to have a] footpath to the beach from every neighborhood,” she said. “It just takes a new way of thinking.”