Construction on a key undercrossing along the Chehalis Western Trail (CWT) near Rainier Road SE is complete. The project connects the final two sections of the CWT, resulting in a continuous 22-mile trail.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for a chance to complete this project,” said Kerry Hibdon, Parks and Trails Manager with Thurston County Public Works.
Hibdon has been persistently pushing to connect these two pieces of the trail for nearly 30 years. Persistence does indeed pay off.
The CWT is part of a national rail to trail initiative to preserve unused rail corridors by transforming them into trails for use by pedestrians and bicyclists. It is built upon an abandoned Weyerhaeuser logging rail line named the Chehalis Western Railroad.
Thurston County Parks began negotiating with Weyerhaeuser to convert the rail line for the trail in 1991, back when Hibdon was a parks maintenance supervisor. After the deal was negotiated, Thurston County Parks worked to develop the trail in sections - North to South - over the course of several years.
“We actively sought out grants for the project and worked on six to seven miles of the trail at a time. Every couple of years, we would put together enough funding to add another phase,” said Hibdon.
Back in 1991, before Weyerhaeuser converting the old rail line, the trestle of an active BNSF line directly above it was vandalized and burned down. Because the logging rail was shut down at the time, the trestle was simply filled in with rock and dirt to support the active rails above it, effectively closing the rail line below.
Getting the undercrossing dug out and a new trestle built would require coordination and funding from both Thurston County and BSNF. For many years, it was simply not feasible. However, due to population growth, increased trail use and advancements in prefabricated bridge technology, Thurston County and BSNF revisited and approved the project in 2019.
Trevin Taylor, Environmental Coordinator with Thurston County Public Works, spearheaded the project for the county, working with Hibdon and representatives from the BNSF to construct the new trestle on the active railroad tracks. Construction, which began in December of 2019, had to be coordinated around train schedules. New pilings had to be driven into the ground and the area underneath scoured out for the undercrossing.
Despite being dependent upon train schedules and weather, BSNF workers completed the trestle bridges in mid-January. Thurston County Road Operations crews completed paving and additional trail improvements this spring.
After nearly 30 years of work, Hibdon was able to announce the completed trail opening in June 2020.
“It’s been so gratifying to see this project completed. We increased safety for the citizens, put the trail back on its’ original alignment, and showed that sometimes persistence pays off,” said Hibdon.
Hibdon added, work improving trails continues and there will always be projects to develop. This summer, work on the Yelm-Tenino Trail bridge over the Deschutes River will be completed, finishing up a two phase, four-year restorati
Thurston County trails are a popular amenity for residents and a tourism draw for the region. The CWT features four trailhead facilities with parking, restrooms, and picnic facilities at the Chambers Lake Boat Launch, Scenic Overlook at Chambers Lake, the Yelm Highway Pedestrian Overpass, a trailhead at 67th Avenue with parking and trail information, and a parking area at Fir Tree Road. The northern section has a trailhead at Woodard Bay with parking and restrooms.
Did you know?
During the BSNF trestle fire in 1991, a photographer from the Olympian took a photo of some firefighters manning a hose line silhouetted by the blaze raging in the background. That image was eventually used in the design of the volunteer firefighter license plate for Washington State.