Proposed trails would circle town, edge Shinglemill

Imagine a walking trail that would take you from downtown Vashon, through Island Center Forest, past Fisher Pond and back into town — a seven-mile loop of largely gentle, wooded terrain.

Or another, maybe three miles long, that would extend from behind the Vashon Community Care Center into a steep-walled ravine and along Shinglemill Creek until it spills out into Colvos Passage at Fern Cove.

If the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust accomplishes some of the goals in its newly drafted five-year plan, both such trails will eventually grace the Island, and one of them — the so-called Town Loop Trail — could get underway this year.

“Eventually,” said Tom Dean, the land trust’s executive director, “we’d like to see a network of trails all over the place.”

The push is in part due to a trend on the Island that Dean and others have found frustrating in recent years. Because of Vashon’s slow but steady development, trails across private lands that once were sanctioned or at least tolerated have now disappeared — blocked by fences, lawns or driveways.

The situation has proven particularly frustrating for the Island’s small but dedicated group of horseback riders, many of whom have worked hard to keep a network of trails cleared of downed trees and encroaching shrubs, Dean said.

Riders, for instance, used to enjoy a route from Paradise Ridge Park north to Island Center Forest; now, they need to ride alongside roads — some of them busy — to get from the one park to the other, he said.

But land trust officials are also working to expand their trail system because of their belief that the only way to nurture a deeper sense of appreciation for the Island’s natural beauty is to ensure people have a way to experience it. Access to natural areas also strengthens support for the land trust, they said.

“I’ve heard from many people that their interest in supporting the land trust is predicated on their ability to access the land,” said Beth Bordner, the land trust’s office manager.

For the last few years, the land trust has been working to build and maintain trails on the lands it owns. Now, it hopes to take that effort to the next level, creating a more elaborate network by securing permission to build trails across public right-of-ways and private lands.

First on the list is the Town Loop Trail, which would both begin and end in Vashon Town, Dean and Bordner said.

Much of the Town Loop Trail already exists, they said. It includes a well-developed set of trails through Island Center Forest and along Fisher Pond. But three critical links are needed to make it continuous, including both the beginning and the end.

Under preliminary plans, the Town Loop Trail would start behind Roseballen, the half-completed, sweat equity housing project west of the Post Office. It would then skirt a small farm behind Vashon Cohousing, extend along publicly owned land at the end of 107th Ave. S.W. and finally hook up with Island Center Forest.

The trail would connect to the Fisher Pond path by way of a yet-to-be-built segment behind Commons Road S.W. And it would likely re-enter Vashon Town at the Windermere Real Estate office, Dean said.

The land trust is still working to secure permissions from both the public and private landowners, many of whom they’ve not yet contacted, Dean said. But they have talked to Vashon HouseHold, which owns the land Roseballen sits on, and have gotten a positive response, Dean said.

Sam Hendricks, Vashon HouseHold’s executive director, said he personally supports the concept but has yet to discuss it with Roseballen residents.

“I’m enthusiastic about the concept and the project,” he said. “But as a courtesy, we need to involve the homeowners and get their ideas and any concerns they have before we make a formal agreement.”

The other trail — which would extend from a newly acquired parcel off of 156th Ave. S.W. behind the community care center to Fern Cove — requires the permission of just one private landowner and King County’s Department of Transportation, they said. But it would be a trickier trail to build because of the steep grade down into the ravine, they said.

A bigger dream, they added, is to connect the two trails systems, so that a walker could hike from downtown Vashon all the way to Fern Cove.

Should they realize their dream, not all of the trails would be open to horses or dogs — but stretches of the new trail system would be. They also hope that neighbors will be receptive to the idea of a backyard trail, in part because the trails will likely be lightly used.

“They would not be thoroughfares,” Bordner said.

The land trust, which was founded 19 years ago, initially took criticism from some Islanders for purchasing land and making it off-limits to the public, Dean said. That’s because the first two parcels the land trust purchased — Whispering Firs Bog and a heron rookery — were ecologically sensitive, and public use had to be minimized, he said.

But that reputation — that the land trust buys land and locks it up — has been hard to shake, Dean said, and the land trust is now working actively to let people know it welcomes visitors and low-impact use on its preserves and project areas. Last year, it produced trail maps for four of its project areas — maps that have already been reissued several times because of their popularity, Bordner said.

Yvonne Kuperberg, one of the land trust’s founders, said she’s happy to see the land trust shift to greater public use. It was hard in those early days, she said, to purchase land and then tell people they couldn’t visit it except during once-a-year guided tours.

“It was one of the things people complained about,” Kuperberg recalled. “There were people who wanted to know why we wanted their money and then wouldn’t allow them to access it.”

Those lands that are not sensitive, however, should certainly be open to public use, she added.

“I think it’s important that people not only learn to preserve something, but also learn to care for it, and I think they have to experience it to care for it,” she said.

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