From the North Olympic Peninsula:
The Olympic Discovery Trail – helping create 'livable' communities at taxpayers' expense

By Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Clallam County, WA – May 23, 2002 –  A fresh outcry has been heard lately as a new group of landowners is being pinpointed for the North Olympic Trail across or near their properties. Near Port Angeles, approximately 45 residents made an uproar when presented with county designs near their property.  The neighbors petitioned county commissioners to reconsider the trail location. It's going through anyway.

In Sequim, residents on several streets in the northeast part of the city have opposed trail proposals for their neighborhoods.  The city moved forward with accepting a bid for the trail, “partly because of pressure from the state DOT [Department of Transportation] officials on use of the grant money”.

Citizens along Sequim Bay Road just east of Sequim aren’t happy either.  They don’t want a trail crossing their property or even being close to it.  It’s going there, too.

This isn’t the first time that people have had to accept the trail near their property despite their protests against it.  Over the years, as the trail has been pieced together, there have been other protests, to no avail.

If the people near and on the trail are against it, then why would it go forward? one may ask. 

The Clallam County Olympic Discovery Trail mandated under the Washington State Trail Plan, was established to “develop alternatives to the use of single occupancy vehicles, such as bicycle commuting, carpools, and transit.” 

One step up the ladder takes us to the National Trails System Act of 1968 (Trails Act), which Congress enacted to establish a nationwide system of nature trails. 

Later legislation brought us the rails-to-trails scheme, which involved “public” (read government) acquisition of property for “public purposes” – including recreational purposes. The Trails Act Amendments directed the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Department of the Interior (DOI) to “encourage state and local agencies and private interest to establish trails where appropriate.”[1]  Incorporated into these two agencies’ provisions is the concept of “sustainability”, or “livable” communities.  So, across the nation, trails like those in our area have been built and are continuing to grow, as the nationwide network comes together.

The Olympic Discovery Trail is planned to run from Port Townsend in the East to the Pacific Coast in the West.  Small portions have been completed, including a few miles near Port Townsend, a few miles near Sequim, and around 20 miles near and in Port Angeles.  In a time when roads are falling into disrepair, and we are told there is a shortage of funds for transportation, most of the funding for the trails comes from the federal Department of Transportation., from the National Scenic Byway Program and the Washington State Department of Transportation.  Construction funds were committed through the Interstate Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) program (80%) and Clallam County (20%).  The County maintains a Paths and Trails Fund as required by state law, which is used to cover the County’s share[2].

Trails cost billions in taxpayers’ dollars (your dollars)

The funding for this year alone for our little county, from only one of the federal and state agencies allocated to the Olympic Discovery Trail is $544,910, designated to construct the last trail segment between Port Angeles and Sequim.[3] The federal Recreational Trails Program is an assistance program of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which will be funding $50 million per year for easement buyouts, state administrative costs, and maintenance.

In 1996, the Olympic Discovery Trail got a $250,000 Heritage Corridors Grant.  Project cost for 3.5 miles of the trail in 1996 was $474,000[4]a cost of $135,428.00 per mile.  While city and county leaders tout that the trail will bring in tourists and money to the economy, 8 years later, walking the trail reveals that only a few people use it regularly.  Apparently the hope has not panned out, yet the trail continues to be built.

Shown here is a portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail at the Dungeness Railroad Bridge Park near Sequim, WA.  
                                        -Photo by Sue Forde

Since Congress introduced TE in 1991, [Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century] more than $2.4 billion has been invested nationwide in facilities for walking and bicycling, historic preservation, scenic beautification, land acquisition and environmental mitigation. In 1998, the TE program was reauthorized in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), ensuring that through 2003, about $620 million in annual funds will be made available to state transportation agencies for these types of projects.

TEA-21 will be reauthorized in 2003 and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is launching a major effort in the spring of 2002 to make sure this important legislation is renewed.

Special Interests play a role in the local trail

The trails in Clallam County fall under the comprehensive plans of the state-mandated,  Growth Management Act (GMA).  In 1994, the county planning commission, consisting of Paul McHugh (now a Sequim city councilman), Steve Tharinger (now a county commissioner) and Alan Merson, incorporated the trail as one of the items to be accomplished to make the area more “livable.”  Tharinger’s wife, Yvonne Yakota, currently serves on the board for the Peninsula Trails Coalition.  In Sequim, one of the local trail sponsors, Primo Construction, just received the contract to connect Carrie Blake Park to John Wayne Marina with a bid of $725,114.53.  A state grant from the DOT (taxpayers’ money) will cover the tab.

The potential for crime on trails

One of the arguments locals have expressed is the high possibility for criminal activities on an un-policed trail, where several segments are fairly remote.  One young mother in Port Angeles expressed the views of many when she said she was concerned the trail and the walkers, bicyclists and horseback riders who would use it would destroy the safety and rural atmosphere of her neighborhood.  She and the other homeowners seem to have good cause for concern, when you read newspaper clippings about the crime on trails in other areas.

Headlines I’ve seen include: “Another attempted rape on the Spokane, Washington trail”, “Police seek leads in assault of teen on interurban trail”, “Police seek suspects of 4 Carmel burglaries – all near the Monon Trail”; “Another senseless crime on a bike trail around Seattle, WA”, and so on.  A good place to research this for yourself is NARPO [National Association of Reversionary Property Owners].  Unanswered questions on the North Olympic Peninsula include who will police the trail, and who is liable for people’s endangerment.

The security question has been around since the trails began here a number of years ago. In a presentation at that time, Senator Patty Murray’s Mike Egan came to address the trail issue, including land acquisitions.  Claire Rogers, then head of the Peninsula Trails Coalition, who also spoke, couldn’t answer questions about enforcement.  She stated in an interview that enforcement like “ski patrols” could possibly be used. 

The Concept – Sustainable Development in the Making

The Rails-to-Trails national movement, of which the North Olympic Peninsula, is a part, began over 25 years ago, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO).

While the idea of trails may sound good, in fact, it’s one more move toward “sustainable” communities.  One of the goals of sustainable development is to get people out of their cars and into mass transit or other methods of transportation (ie bicycles or walking), after the manner of Europe.  In the Trail Information Packet for the Olympic Discovery Trail, the goal is stated to “serve recreation and transportation needs of the community.” 

On Oct. 28, 1996, DOT representative Dan Burden from Florida was invited to come and promote the concept of trails in Sequim.  He gave a slide show presentation, explaining “sustainable” land use.  He has been Florida’s Pedestrian/Bicycle Coordinator for more than 20 years.  He discussed the importance of the “sustainable land use and sustainable towns.” He stated, “Sometimes it takes forceful measures to bring needed change.”

In a brochure he produced, he discusses the importance of “sustainable land use and sustainable towns.”  The problem, he states, is a result of “planned isolation.”  It is difficult to walk or bicycle to any place…churches, parks, stores – everything is isolated.  Everyone drives, he continued, and vast parking lots take up the land.

In the alternate scene, based on “new urbanism and traditional design”, anyone can walk or bicycle anywhere.  He proposed taking our towns back to walking-scale size.  “Want a sustainable town?” he asks.  “Developers build to the form that the community sets forth as the town genetic code.  Change the code,” he says.

Burden proposed more density in housing and apartments to make the town more “walking friendly” and less dependent upon the automobile.  This increases land efficiency and is sustainable, he asserted.

Neighborhoods can be reclaimed, he says by providing trails and greenways.  Residents can walk, ride bikes and otherwise travel to school, into other neighborhoods, and “feel connected to their community.”  (In a community of a high percentage of retirees, one wonders if he plans to include wheelchairs in his scenario.)

‘Out of your private cars, people!’

Sorry, folks, private cars are not sustainable!  One of the reasons the trail system is being developed is to get people out of their cars.  They’re not “sustainable.”  The very dimensions of cars “make them less than sustainable,” says one report.[5]  Mass transit is touted as another necessary solution to the “sustainability” problem.  The same report states that “while mass transit seldom affords the freedom or individuality of the private automobile…advocates of sustainability feel that mass transit systems should be seen as one of the necessary infrastructure elements found in modern society, like sewer systems, roads and overhead wires.”  Bicycles and walking, on the other hand, are considered to be very sustainable.

 A local Comprehensive Plan offers an example of the type of wording throughout many of the regional documents: “Non-motorized travel should be promoted within the Sequim-Dungeness area for multi-purpose recreation and transportation trails for users of all abilities.[6]

The Rails to Trails Conservancy, in its “Aid to Transportation Planning under ISTEA,” says “Because rail-trails encourage and facilitate non-motorized transportation, they lessen our dependence on cars and foreign oil, and benefit communities by lessening air and water pollution.  Research indicates that if safe facilities are provided, bicycle transportation use would increase from 5 percent to 13 percent of total trips…Bicycling and walking may never meet all of the transportation needs currently met by motor vehicles, but in combination with transit, intercity buses, and trains, rail-trails can provide a viable alternative for many trips now taken by single-occupant autos.”  They add that it’s “sustainable in the long-term.”

Future Transportation Corridors

Federal government agencies have a “vision” for our future.  They want us living in “sustainable” – or as I see it phrased more frequently now, “livable” communities.  That vision comes from even higher – the United Nations, with its many documents that talk about the subject, which began with the Rio Summit in 1992. (See UN Mountains and UN Sustainability). The provisions in the documents for the trails include “future transportation corridors” in their vision.  We’ll have to wait and see how those play out.  It seems that local people should decide upon and provide for their own local standards about what’s “livable” in their own communities.  We’re faced with a “think globally, act locally” mantra that will take much to overcome.  How far we’ve gone from the original freedoms we enjoyed as a result of the sacrifices of many generations before.  One wonders if it can be regained.

Is this happening in your community?


[1] Surface Transportation: Issues Related to Preserving Inactive Rail Lines as Trails (Letter Report, 10/18/1999, GAO/RCED-00-4) – from

[2] Ibid.

[3] Grants have also been received from Washington Department of Ecology , Washington State Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation , Washington Department of Natural Resources , Washington Department of Wildlife , Rayonier , National Scenic Byways Program, Inter-modal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act , County Path and Trails Fund , the Kenneth Langley family , Green Pointe Associates and “others.”  (Grant money is your tax dollars, folks!) 

[4] (Sequim Gazette, 8.21.96)

[5] Florida Center for Community Design Research copy, 1994, Center for Urban Transportation Research

[6] Sequim-Dungeness Regional Comprehensive Plan, 12-12-94