Sailors, vets pitch in to build trail

Veterans and current service members make some of the best volunteers, according to Roy Zipp, superintendent for National Park Service Operations for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

They don’t complain, Zipp explained with a laugh.

“That’s why the park service loves working with the military guys and the vets,” he said.

In late April, Zipp led a crew of veterans from The Mission Continues, sailors from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Sea Cadets and National Parks Conservation Association volunteers in a trail-expansion project on the reserve.

The crew members cut, pulled and shoveled their way through overgrown brush to create the foundation for a trail from the Prairie Wayside to Hill Road. Volunteers also trimmed tall hedges along the trail so its future users could enjoy a view of the prairie.

The project’s objective resonated with some of the volunteers, who might become future users.

“My passion is trail running,” said Chief Petty Officer Joshua Freeman of NAS Whidbey.

After he heard about the opportunity, he put out the word to other sailors at the base, he said. He also reached out to the leader of the local Sea Cadets, a nonprofit youth organization supported by the Navy and Coast Guard. The resulting work party included a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

The day’s effort was part of a broader vision for a Walking Ebey’s Trail System, the brainchild of Pat Powell, executive director of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

“The Land Trust started planning for a trail system in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve more than a decade ago,” Powell said in a statement. “By securing conservation and trail easements from private landowners, the Land Trust now is connecting existing trails in Central Whidbey to create a European-like walking experience to and from Coupeville through surrounding forests, farmlands, parks and along beaches.”

Volunteer trail builders are finally getting a chance to get their hands dirty as the construction of these trails is starting to ramp up. Prairie Wayside, located off Engle Road, and most of the other land used for the trail is owned by the Park Service. Zipp said the trail system will be a great way to get people outside and disperse use away from the heavily traveled Ebey’s Landing bluff trail.

Coupeville farmer Wilbur Bishop also authorized the edge of his field for a portion of the trail, and he spent about 10 hours roughing out the trail with a chainsaw, Zipp said.

About 40 people banded together to complete the approximately 600-foot section to Hill Road. Five veterans from Seattle- and Tacoma-based platoons of The Mission Continues, which partners in many Park Service projects, also journeyed to the island to help build the trail.

The nonprofit organization connects veterans to volunteer opportunities in under-served communities, according to Linh Thai, city impact manager for the group in Seattle.

“We just love to serve,” he said. “(It’s) veterans who have taken their uniforms off but still want to find meaning and purpose after their service.”

Members from the national National Parks Conservation Association, a group that works in a number of ways to preserve national parks, came from all over the U.S. to contribute to the trail— including one member who came from the organization’s headquarters in Washington D.C.

“Like everything in the Reserve,” Zipp said, “it’s partnerships that make it happen.”