Trail through history
It might have been the James Carty family, or Carty cows, that established a web of trails here starting as long ago as 1836. The land became public property in 1966, but grazing continued for at least 30 more years as the acreage phased into a new identity as the Carty Unit of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.
Those old trail alignments really don’t make sense given the contours of the land, refuge managers say. “They’re like a plate of spaghetti” inside the northern loop, Anderson said — going up and down eroding slopes, plunging into mud puddles and crossing streams via mossy, rotting wooden footbridges.
“We inherited those trails. We don’t really know what their origins are,” spokeswoman Josie Finley said. “We think they were just created by … whatever made sense to people at the time.” Lately, she added, the trails are “starting to get loved to death.”
So, on a recent Thursday, approximately 20 trained volunteers with the Washington Trails Association, or WTA, fanned out across the north loop landscape. They’ve been here week after week this winter, and not just to contribute the grunt work of hauling dirt and rocks around. These volunteers have all devoted classroom study to the science of trail building. Some have even been to “trail skills college,” volunteer Bill Connolly said.
“They’re the trail building experts. We’re not,” Finley said.
WTA volunteers have been consulting with refuge staff, analyzing the topography and developing a smarter, sustainable new trail alignment. The new loop trail they’re building this winter is designed to follow the contours of the land, staying flat and avoiding erosion. “It’ll be pretty much a single grade, not so up and down,” Anderson said.