On the Road to a Trail - Work may begin this fall on recreational route

Skagit Valley Herald


ANACORTES, WA - 7/15/02 — After seven years of planning, construction is almost ready to begin on a trail for the Tommy Thompson Parkway while a locomotive route intended for the same corridor is on hold.

The trail will be a 12-foot-wide paved path for bikers and walkers. Construction will start at 22nd Street and connect to an existing path that runs along R Avenue from 11th Street to 22nd Street.

Because the trail is to be paved, people in wheelchairs or with strollers will be able to enjoy the views of Fidalgo Bay and Mount Baker that the trail will offer.

“It’s one more open area the community will place a high value on for a long time to come,” Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell said.

The nearly 4-mile-long meandering path will stretch along Anacortes’ waterfront to a trestle at March Point, across from Weaverling Spit.

“The trestle is going to be way cool,” said Gary Robinson, Anacortes Parks and Recreation director.

The trestle will have handrails, and it will be safe to walk on when construction is finished, Robinson said.

The project is awaiting a shoreline permit from the city. The Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, in City Council chambers to consider granting the permit.

The city also needs final environmental reviews from the Washington state Department of Transportation, according to Kim McKinnon, project manager for the trail. The next step is to solicit bids for construction, and work should begin in the fall. The trail should be finished by the end of the year. If construction falls behind, it won’t be completed until next summer, McKinnon said.

The trail is expected to cost about $800,000, paid by grants through the local and federal governments. [That's $200,000 per mile.]

The waterfront trail was first talked about in 1995. First, the city needed to buy the corridor from the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railway, which used to operate freight trains in Anacortes.

After lots of negotiating, Robinson talked the company into selling the land, valued at $1.5 million, for about $80,000 in 1997.

“We got a really sweet deal,” Maxwell said.

Designers have been working with the city engineering staff to come up with a blueprint for the path. The design will be 90 percent complete in a couple of weeks.

Also, the city needed to get permits — and a lot of money.

“There were a number of hurdles to go over, but we made it through,” Robinson said.

Now, after seven years of patience, and with the help of several people in the city, the project is ready to begin.

But the Tommy Thompson Parkway still is lacking a train.

The parkway’s namesake ran a pint-sized locomotive during the summer, swinging locals and tourists around a 14-block downtown loop.

Thompson dreamed of expanding the Anacortes Railway to Weaverling Spit, near the Fidalgo Bay Resort recreational vehicle park, but he died in 1999 before his dream could come true.

Thompson was known for his spirit and passion for trains.

The City Council dubbed the railroad corridor the Tommy Thompson Parkway just days before Thompson died.

A few months after Thompson’s death, a group called Anacortes Train and Rail formed, hoping to fulfill Thompson’s dream.

The nonprofit organization has raised enough money to buy two small-gauge locomotives. One is in Vancouver, Wash., and the other is in Iowa. The group is looking for a way to bring the heavy trains to Anacortes.

Once the trains make it to the city, a crew will have to polish them and work on them a bit before they’re ready to chug around downtown, as well as build passenger cars. There is no date set for the first train run, and a ticket price for rides hasn’t been determined.

The track will run next to the trail with a 4-foot buffer and fence separating the two, McKinnon said.

Anacortes City Council members have said they want to see how the train operates on a smaller route before granting a franchise for the train to run from downtown to Weaverling Spit.

Rich Stockwell, co-chair for Anacortes Train and Rail, said the plan is to run the locomotive during summers, weekends and festivals.

Stockwell said enough people in the organization are trained as conductors for the locomotive to keep it operating without any problems.

“As long as people are coming and riding it, we’ll do it,” Stockwell said. 

Betsy Littrell can be reached at 360-416-2148 or by e-mail at blittrell@skagit valleyherald.com.


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