Building the Olympic Discovery Trail

Building the Olympic Discovery Trail

If you are a walker, runner, cyclist or just a general outdoor enthusiast, you don’t want to miss the chance to explore the Olympic Discovery Trail, traversing the North Olympic Peninsula from Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean. For more than 35 years, the building of the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) has been in development and today it’s about 75% done, or on the way to being done. My involvement with the ODT for the past 30 years allows for some inside perspective that I’d love to share with you about this amazing Olympic Peninsula asset.

History of the Olympic Discovery Trail

Bicyclist on the Olympic Discovery Trail in autumn | Photo by Don Willott

When the railroads came to an end on the Olympic Peninsula in 1985, Clallam and Jefferson Counties opted not to buy the railroad corridor, so it was sold into a wide variety of private ownerships. That failed community interest led to our organization, the Peninsula Trails Coalition (PTC), being formed to pursue the vision of an ODT (non-motorized use only) across the entire North Olympic Peninsula from Port Townsend to the Pacific, at La Push. The first very short piece, known locally in Port Angeles as the Waterfront Trail, used abandoned railroad grade between City Pier and the old Rayonier pulp mill at Ennis Creek. It was built even before PTC was formed in 1988. Clearly, the community already understood what a good thing a trail would be!

In Port Townsend, PTC’s early advocacy achieved a 3.5-mile piece of trail in 1991. At the same time, the sad, premature passing of one of our founders led to that first intentional piece of the ODT being named the Larry Scott Trail.

A couple and a dog walk along the Larry Scott Trail with Port Townsend in the background
The Larry Scott Trail portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail with Port Townsend in the background

Then, thanks to the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the City of Sequim, the Trust for Public Land, and PTC’s earliest volunteers and advocates, the third piece of trail entailed the saving and repurposing of the Dungeness River bridge and trestle into a piece of the ODT. It is now one of numerous iconic spots along the ODT.

Vision for the Olympic Discovery Trail

Runners on a trail through a tunnel with trees
The McPhee Tunnel along the Spruce Railroad Trail portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail

From those early achievements onward, with a piece of ODT in Port Angeles, a piece in Sequim, and a third piece in Port Townsend, the vision of an ODT was easier to see…and to motivate. Thanks to elected leaders in both counties, hard-working staff across the dozen or so jurisdictions through which the full ODT passes, and millions of dollars in federal, state and local funding, the vision has become more and more of a reality. Approximately 75 miles are completed, and another 10-15 miles are on a definitive timeline for completion within the next 3-4 years. 

Events on the Olympic Discovery Trail

A marathon runner and people at a water station
An aid station for the North Olympic Discovery Marathon

With the recent opening of the Spruce Railroad Trail segment of the ODT along the north shore of Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park, a premier jewel in the ODT crown is now attracting hundreds of daily users. That popularity is being matched by event organizers using the ODT as the basis for a dozen or so events that bring substantial economic activity and benefit to the peninsula. And all of this will keep developing as the ODT continues to be built and as PTC strives to keep up with its maintenance and completion.

A Community Success Story

Spruce Railroad Trail family
The Spruce Railroad Trail overlooking the north shore of Lake Crescent

The building of the Olympic Discovery Trail is now a wonderful success story, with much more yet to write. New ODT pieces outside of Port Townsend, along US 101 east of Blyn, and between Forks and LaPush are slated for completion by 2025 or so. The arduous process of route scouting, acquisition, design, funding, and construction is underway for most of the remaining gaps. It may take another 15 years or so, but PTC will keep working to get it done—and then to keep taking care of it! It takes hundreds of volunteers and lots of financial support for PTC to continue succeeding in the many roles we play. To borrow from our railroad ancestry, if you’d like to come along on our ride, we invite you to hop on board!                                                            

By guest blogger Jeff Bohman, PTC President

Cover photo courtesy of State of Washington Tourism