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Trailhead marks city’s ‘crown jewel’
Oak Harbor’s waterfront trail project reached a major milestone last week with the completion of the system’s centerpiece.
A crowd of about 50 people gathered at the newly completed Scenic Heights Trailhead to watch elected officials, city staff, and members of the Oak Harbor Parks Board participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, April 7, officially opening the facility for public use.
“It was a big deal,” Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik said.
The waterfront trail network has been in various stages of construction for the past 20 years and this was one of the last big pieces. The trailhead will serve as the anchor for the west end of the system, which snakes along the shoreline for about three miles all the way to Maylor’s Point on the Seaplane Base.
The new trailhead, which is located on Scenic Heights Street, includes a five-car parking lot, a circular terrace viewing area of the Freund Marsh wetland and Oak Harbor bay, and a congregation area fitted with pavers and benches.
The shape of the terrace also creates an amphitheater effect. If you speak softly from the center, your voice will be naturally amplified. People of all ages seem to be enjoying that particular part of the trailhead.
“It’s so much fun,” said Helen Chatfield-Week, chairwoman of the Parks Board.
Chatfield-Weeks said she thought it was so cool that she enticed a little girl from the crowd to give it try. Reluctant at first, the girl eventually gave her name a yell. The effect was immediate and obvious.
“She did and her eyes got so big,” Chatfield-Weeks laughed.
Trails have always been an important part of Whidbey Island and this project was been a dream for many parks department officials for years, Chatfield-Weeks said. She was also happy to report that all the work was done by Oak Harbor firms.
Construction costs for the project totaled $240,000 but only $86,000 came from city coffers. The bulk, $154,000, was paid for with a Federal Aid Transportation Enhancement grant awarded through the Island Sub-Regional Transportation Organization.
Interpretive signs were also installed at the trailhead and were paid for using funds from a state Department of Ecology grant.
According to City Engineer Eric Johnston, this was a low impact development project due to the use of pervious pavement and pavers, along with the installation of a rain garden. Without them, the city would have had to build a retention pond.
According to Slowik, the trailhead was a major accomplishment but there is still more work to be done. A public building and bathrooms are planned at Flintstone Park — part of the Upland Pier Project — and Slowik hopes to secure a more permanent arrangement with the Navy for use of Maylor Point.
The city’s current arrangement is only for two years, but something more substantial is needed so that the expense of additional improvements, such as a more established trail and interpretive signs, can be justified.
According to Slowik, he is just one of many mayors, both past and future, that place a high value on the trail system simply because of its location along the city’s waterfront.
“It’s the crown jewel of Oak Harbor,” Slowik said.