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Island County revises trail plan

Island County loves its trails, at least it did more than a decade ago. That was the last time a plan to develop new trails was updated.

But that is about to change.

On Monday, Island County hired an outside consultant to develop a new plan that will guide the county in creating and maintaining its extensive trail system.

The system is so extensive, the county does not know how many miles of trails exist, which is why the update is needed, said Jill Wood, an engineer who will assist with the plan’s development.

“(The plan) was very useful at its time,” she said. “It was the first plan of its kind in Island County.”

Stanwood-based Design Consultants Northwest was awarded the $105,800 contract for the plan, which will take until January to develop, Wood said.

The consultants will review the existing trail system and map the trails that are out there. Once the extent of the county’s trails is known, the consultants will conduct focus groups and have a series of public workshops to gather the views of trail users and property owners who could be affected by the development of new trails.

“We’re not paying a consultant to sit behind a closed door and write a plan for $100,000,” Wood said. “It’s so much more, the community is going to be vested in Island County.”

The workshops will be conducted before the plan is drafted to ensure input on the citizens’ vision are heard, she said.

Island County Parks and Recreation and the Public Works departments each manage properties with trail systems. Parks Superintendent Terri Arnold said that the non-motorized trails are an integral part of the transportation system in Island County.

“It’s how people get around in this county if they don’t have a car or other motorized vehicle,” Arnold said. “The more people you have on Whidbey, the more people who want to find routes without using cars.”

The plan will develop a course of action for initiating the construction of new trails throughout the county. Wood said that the county will be looking for trails that ease connectivity,

instead of recreational areas that are already saturated with trails.

“We want this plan for implementation of new trails,” Wood said. “But we may be looking beyond public lands.”

When the old plan was developed in the mid ‘90s, researchers undertook a phone survey. According to those results, 83 percent of respondents utilized a day hiking trail or beach trail at least once per year.

But kayaking was not as popular as 82 percent of respondents said they never went kayaking within that year. Horseback riding was even more unpopular, with 84 percent saying they never went.

According to the 1995 plan, only 29.5 miles of public beach access was available for trekking and approximately 40 miles of off-road trails were available.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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