11-9-06 article


Snohomish County Dreams Of Linking Trails A Step Closer

Published in the Seattle Times on 11/9/06

By Diane Brooks
Times Snohomish County bureau

Leaders within the trails community fantasized for years about this 14-mile swath of railroad.


Cutting south from BNSF Railway’s main line in Snohomish, the freight line runs through the Snohomish River valley, along the edge of Bob Heirman Wildlife Park and through lightly populated and industrial areas of Cathcart and Maltby before crossing into King County at Woodinville.


Its north end, on the edge of downtown Snohomish, lies within a short jog of the 17.5-mile Centennial Trail’s terminus. And two miles south of the county line the railroad crosses the Sammamish River Trail, which to the west becomes the Burke-Gilman Trail and to the east connects with the East Lake Sammamish Trail.


Dreams of linking the two counties’ trail networks into a continuous web took a sudden bend toward reality two weeks ago, when King County and the Port of Seattle announced a major, complex deal among numerous players, including the state and BNSF.


When everything settles — perhaps by next summer — King County could own a 47-mile rail corridor between Snohomish and Renton.


In King County, the tracks probably would be pulled up to create 33 miles of new trail. But in Snohomish County, preliminary plans call for building a trail parallel to an operational railroad.


"We want to sit down with Snohomish County and figure out a way to make this happen," said Kurt Triplett, chief of staff to King County Executive Ron Sims. "This is not a trail. This is the trail, because this corridor connects it all. And that’s just remarkable."


King County might help its northern neighbor secure grants and other funding to cover the construction costs, Triplett said. As part of the background deal, the Port of Seattle is expected to pay $35 million to $100 million to build King County’s portion from Woodinville to Renton.


Snohomish County leaders, however, aren’t happy with the prospect of King County owning their county’s rail-and-trail corridor.


"The important thing is to make sure that Burlington Northern [BNSF] doesn’t sell it off or break it up," said Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers. "If King County can preserve the corridor and keep it whole, then that’s fantastic. But it would make sense eventually to get Snohomish County ownership."


Parks planners for years have worked to create a King County connection for the Centennial Trail, which now extends north to Arlington. Current plans show the trail running east from Snohomish to Monroe along the Highway 2 corridor, paralleling the main BNSF line. From Monroe the trail would head south to Duvall, generally following Highway 203.


Acquiring affordable land in the county’s more developed southern areas has been difficult. So far the county has purchased about seven miles of corridor, including the Highway 2 stretch and two short, unconnected segments along Highway 203.


"Until last year there was no prospect [to go into Woodinville] because Burlington Northern [BNSF] wasn’t talking about abandonment," said Marc Krandel, the county’s principal parks planner.


Former state Rep. John Wynne, who helped conceive the Centennial Trail 35 years ago, sees the new corridor as a natural extension. Last year, he sent a letter to King and Snohomish county leaders exhorting them to take care with the project.


"It’s probably the most important section of the Centennial Trail, to bring tourism into Snohomish County from King County" and vice versa, he said.


In theory, both the Woodinville and Duvall trails could be offshoots of the Centennial, Krandel said.


Gene Duvernoy, president of Cascade Land Conservancy, is enthusiastic about the new trail corridor. Last summer, he biked the Centennial with his 16-year-old son.


"Everyone who uses it is just beaming," he said. "And we spent the night in Snohomish, we had dinner. [The trail] is a great economic asset."


He’s not worried about the lack of trail funding.


"At least it’s being saved," Duvernoy said. "If we’re going to preserve the quality of life in this region that we all like, while we continue to grow, these are the types of bold actions that we need to take today."

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com