Along the Kettle's Trail

"Seen from the highway, Kettles Trail looks less like a recreational resource than a long black sidewalk.But for a growing number of Whidbey walkers, runners, roller bladers and cyclists, it's become a regular pathway to aerobic health and serenity. Take for instance the three Whidbey General Hospital employees who were talking and power walking along the trail's rolling, asphalt curves Wednesday at about 11:30 a.m.From the ankles up, the ladies were dressed for success. But the waffle-soled running shoes they wore indicated another purpose. As did their quick-time pace.Mary Awe and Jean Wells have been trading their 30-minute lunch breaks for lunch walks for more than 15 months. Roberta Madsen has joined them since last October. The three say say the trail's easy access, smooth paved surface and fenced border provides a secure, enticing and energizing break from their indoor, work-day environment.We do it to break the routine of the day, to feel healthier and to get some of the outdoor air - rain or shine, said Awe, an administrative secretary at the hospital said. Awe also said the design of the trail and the fact it is used regularly adds a sense of security.I love it, she said. I love that its off the road and you never have to worry about traffic. It's very scenic and you get some shade and some sun.And after 16 months, Awe said, she runs into a lot of familiar faces.You make friends and see regulars out there, she said. And they chastise us if they haven't seen us in a while. You feel safe there and its scenic and a good workout. Madsen said she just feels better since she joined the group and likes the fact that the trail is separated from the highway by a fence. All kinds of people use the trail, she said, but they rarely see enough to feel crowded. Completed in 1998 for about $350,000, the eight-foot-wide, asphalt path stretches out like a black ribbon for more than two miles along the south side of SR 20, starting at the bottom of a pedestrian overpass at the junction of Coupeville's South Main Street and the highway.Along the way, it passes farmland, pastoral views and on clear days has a clear sight lane to the Olympic Mountains across Admiralty Inlet.Where the asphalt lane ends at the entrance to the forested Kettles area, the trail branches left into dense woods.For about a mile, it follows an improved logging road up and over a series of glacially formed hills, or kettles, then drops down into Fort Ebey State Park and offers more choices: either branch off onto one of the park's many side roads, or continue northwest onto Point Partridge Road and down to the park's beaches.Except to a growing number of mountain bikers and some equestrians, the unpaved portion is one of the lesser known portions of the trail and also one of the more exciting, according to Jill Wood, an engineer with Island County Public Works.There are countless mountain biking trails in there, Wood said, What most people have been using is the paved portion because that's what they see.Wood said the county - which spearheaded and funded much of the construction of the trail - took some heat early on for both the cost of the trail and the fact that it dead-ended in the park.We had so many critics at first but now we have so many advocates, she said. Everyone uses it in the community. Hospital workers, Island County workers, cyclists, roller bladers, young old - it's doesn't matter.Moreover, Wood said there have been several discussions about tying the Kettles Trail into Ebey's Bluff trail, providing a pedestrian route from Fort Ebey State Park to Ebey's Landing but that a group of property owners who's land the trail would cross have raised concerns about public access in their neighborhoods.Still, others have hope for extending Kettles Trail.Basically a group of residents in the area have concerns about how public use might affect their neighborhoods and until we work out some solutions, we wont have a trail there, said Rob Harbour, manager of Ebey's Landing NHR. But I'm hopeful that someday we'll have a continuous pedestrian trail from Fort Ebey State Park through Fort Casey State Park to Keystone Spit. That would make the trail about eight miles long.Meanwhile, a growing number of walkers, runners, roller bladers and cyclists are discovering that the long black sidewalk has a lot to offer.Like the three lunch-time walkers from Whidbey General Hospital, who have been walking the trail for months.It gives me more energy after sitting in a chair all day, Wells said. It's just lovely.Branching outKettles Trail will be growing. To the south.Island County recently received a federal grant totalling $164,720 from the Washington Transportation Improvement Board. The County plans to kick in $67,280 and extend the trail south to Jacobs Road and eventually into Rhododendron State Park.Construction won't begin for a few years however, said Jill Wood, an engineer with Island County Public Works. "

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