Lewis County Community Trails has pledged $10,000 in matching funds to Washington State Parks for a proposed $1.1 million grant for the continued restoration of the Willapa Hills Trail which stretches 56 miles from Chehalis to South Bend on Willapa Bay.
“It’s so significant that Lewis County Community Trails is matching for a project that is in Pacific County. Doesn’t that say so much? It makes me so happy to see that the trail helps to unite people,” said Michael Hankinson, a planner with Washington State Parks.
The trail cannot currently be hiked or biked the entire way uninterrupted and is broken up into sections, but the grant would help fund work to repair several old bridges in Pacific County along the former Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. rail line, which was acquired by the state in 1992. After this round of repairs is completed the trail will not be whole yet and will still need a few more restorations to make other areas of the trail safe.
“I think what’s really incredible about Willapa Trail is that because it spans two counties — it’s unifying. It’s rare to have a recreational resource that spans multiple counties. Trails are unique that way and it has regional importance because of that,” Hankinson said.
About 26 miles of the trail stretch through Lewis County, beginning near the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, continuing to Rainbow Falls State Park at about mile 15 and then into Pacific County.
“Washington State Parks has been planning its development and about 15 years ago we really started in earnest to develop from Chehalis trying to go west as far as we could and have made it well into Pacific County now,” he said.
Hankinson said that the Lewis County Community Trails’ $10,000 in matching funds will be going toward the project of repairing three bridges on the trail that are in Pacific County and making other improvements to the trail.
He said that essentially all of the Willapa Hills Trail that goes through Lewis County is continuous — the bridges have been improved and a portion of the trail was even paved with compacted gravel. Since the trail is a former rail line, Hankinson said that the conversion of the trail is easier.
Chris Brewer, president of the Lewis County Community Trails, said he anticipates outdoor-lovers from all over the state will come to Lewis County to hike or bike the Willapa Hills Trail as it is conveniently located right off of Interstate 5.
“These are people that are going to need to find places to eat, place to sleep and we think our community could benefit just as much as South Bend and a lot of the towns in the Pacific County portion as well,” said Brewer.
Brewer said he rides his bike three to four times a week and finds that being able to ride on the Willapa Hills Trail away from traffic is a wonderful and peaceful journey.
“I think it’s the best recreation resource that I have that’s close to my house. I don’t have to go too far to experience the outdoors. There are new experiences to be had out there all the time. You meet people out on the trail. It’s a really cool experience that I think everyone should experience at one time or another,” he said.
Brewer said that Lewis County Community Trails is committed to seeing the project through to completion.
“We don’t just want the Lewis County portion to be completed. We want to see it done the whole way,” he said.
Hankinson said that the ultimate goal is the have a trail span from Idaho all the way to the Willapa Bay on the coast of Washington.
“This is the kind of project that takes your whole career to do. It’s done in segments and it takes money from various sources — from the state or private donations or anywhere we can get it to put toward the project,” said Hankinson.
Members of the public that are interested in writing letters of support for the Willapa Hills Trail restoration project, to be included in the grant proposal, can email the letters to Michael Hankinson of the state parks department at firstname.lastname@example.org.