Like any 130 mile trail and/or converted rail grade, there is a long history behind what we see and enjoy today. This page celebrates the ODT’s past as well as how far it has come.
1988 Founding the Peninsula Trails Coalition (PTC)
The idea grew out of discussions between 3 young peninsula bicyclists who were interested in creating a public access trail for non-motorized travel between Port Townsend, Port Angeles, and the Pacific Coast.
The (PTC) was incorporated as a non-profit corporation of the State of Washington in 1988 and granted 501(c)3 status. It’s mission: “To represent the hiking, biking and equestrian communities of the North Olympic Peninsula.”
The idea took root and the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) was created. The trail was to connect the population centers of the area, from Port Townsend on Puget Sound west toward Forks, about 100 miles, utilizing as much as possible the abandoned Milwaukee Railroad corridor. This mission was later expanded to extend the trail another 30 miles to LaPush on the Pacific Ocean.
1915 Railroad Development and Passenger Service
The history of the ODT project truly begins with the construction of the first railroad grades in Clallam County. The Port Townsend and Southern lines were built in 1887. The Seattle, Port Angeles and Western Railway lines were laid between Port Angeles and Discovery Bay in 1914 and 1915—the year passenger rail service between Port Angeles and Port Townsend was begun, ultimately expanding westward as far as Twin Rivers.
1931 Passenger Service Discontinued
As progress dictated, by 1931, rail passenger service had been eclipsed by the automobile, and was discontinued. The rail lines were operated then by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad,and were utilized solely for freight and timber hauling.
1985 Railroad Demise
In 1980 the Seattle and North Coast Railroad acquired the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad lines and tried to revive passenger train service between Port Angeles and Port Townsend. This effort failed. By 1985 the train was out of service, and track removal had begun.
1988 Origin of Peninsula Trails Coalition (PTC)
The Coalition grew out of discussions between 3 young peninsula bicyclists who were interested in creating a public access trail for non-motorized travel between Port Townsend, Port Angeles, and the Pacific Coast. The goal was to use a recently abandoned railroad corridor. Unfortunately, the railroad quickly sold portions of their right of way. Despite these losses, the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) idea took root, and the impetus was found to develop a trail that would eventually use sections of the old railroad grade.
1991 First Trestle and Bridge Saved
Through a variety of state and federal grants and the enthusiasm of several local residents and entities, the 3000 ft section of rail corridor that spans the Dungeness River west of Sequim became the first acquired and created section of the Olympic Discovery Trail. In 1992 the PTC coordinated the efforts of several state agencies and local citizens in a massive (1000 hours) volunteer effort that turned the 95 year old, 600 ft railroad bridge and trestle into a pedestrian walkway. This section of the ODT is now part of Railroad Bridge Park and the Dungeness River Audubon Center. The park is owned by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and managed through a partnership with the Tribe, the Dungeness River Audubon Center, the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, and the National Audubon Society.
1993 A Critical County Plan Adopted
Clallam County’s Countywide Policy Plan (required by the state’s Growth Management Act) was adopted. This document contained transportation policies to support non-motorized transportation projects linking various parks and communities on the north Olympic Peninsula. Without this vital piece of legislation the likelihood of the ODT becoming a reality is doubtful.
The interest in non-motorized transportation coincided with renewed emphasis by the federal government in alternative forms of transportation. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act of 1990 (ISTEA) provided strong support for alternate forms of transportation. Additionally, Washington State required 0.42% of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax receipts be set aside for the development of non-motorized transportation. Thus was begun the funding stream that has allowed continued land procurement and trail development—a marriage of federal and state tax monies to support non-motorized transportation options.
1995 First Trail Construction Grant Awarded
Clallam County received its first grant funding in 1995–ISTEA monies to purchase 1.3 miles of former railroad grade between Carlsborg and Kitchen Dick Rds in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley. The ODT—at that time, only a gravel surface–was on its way.
1998 The ODT, Eastward
In 1998, the first section (2 miles) of railway corridor running west from Port Townsend was opened to trail users. Named The Larry Scott Memorial Trail to honor one of the early cyclist visionaries (and founding PTC member), this initial effort has today grown to 6 miles. It will eventually be 26 miles of trail as it rounds Discovery Bay and meets the terminus of Clallam County’s east end at the Jefferson-Clallam county line.
1999 Volunteers Rebuild Morse Creek Trestle and Bridge
With financial assistance from the City of Port Angeles and grant monies from the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, trail construction was done through the Deer Park Overlook and west to Morse Ck. PTC organized another massive volunteer effort, and refurbished the railroad bridge and trestle. This 400 ft structure is a critical link. It joins upland to spectacular sea level views as the ODT skirts the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and gently meanders into Port Angeles, meeting the Waterfront Trail. An additional 5 miles of connecting trail was also opened in 1999.
2000 Two Additional Links and a Pedestrian Bridge
Trail segments (totaling 4 miles) between Siebert Ck and Sequim, and between Morse Ck and Gasman Rd were completed; the Siebert Ck pedestrian bridge (purchased salvage) was installed.
2003 Third Railroad Bridge and Trestle Rehabilitated
In 2003 the PTC brought together volunteer workers and refurbished the elegantly curved Johnson Creek Trestle, making the ODT at Whitefeather Wy, the then eastern terminus in Clallam County.
2004 McDonald Creek Bridging and a Connector Trail Completed
Using the undercarriage of a surplus railroad flat car, the county constructed an 89 ft bridge across McDonald (also known as McDonnell) Ck. A federal grant was awarded to Clallam County to connect the ODT from Kendall Rd to Priest Rd. The trail was contiguous at this point from Sequim’s eastside at Whitefeather Wy to downtown Port Angeles.
2005 Adventure Route Segment Begun (see below)
2008 Volunteers Save Barker Road Railroad Bridge
In the late winter-early spring of 2008, PTC volunteers rehabilitated a severely neglected railroad bridge off Barker Rd, west of Sequim Bay State Park. This bridge, 144 ft in length, required by-hand removal and replacement of 72 railroad ties, spreading of a concrete deck, and construction of handrail. There is now a scenic overlook with a viewing platform–utilizing some of the salvaged railroad ties.
Also in 2008, the Sequim Sunrise Rotary Club completed 0.5 miles of horse, barbed, and smooth wire fencing along the new section of the ODT west of Priest Rd. The Thursday Volunteer Trail Crew did additional trail work there, and the Clallam County Chain Gang planted vegetation and installed a drip irrigation system –mitigation for designated bald eagle habitat. (As you pass by, take a moment to look for the eagles. While they have built a new nest at the Dungeness River, they still land in the Douglas firs along the trail near Priest Rd.)
2009 New Elwha River Bridge Dedicated
Located between State Hwy 112 and the Lower Elwha Tribal Center, the bridge opened in the fall of 2009—replacing one in service since 1913. It features a unique double deck 85 ft above the river. The upper-most section is for motorized vehicles (bicycles allowed); the lower 14 ft wide segment (suspended by 2.5 inch thick cables) is for pedestrians and cyclists. This dynamic structure affords spectacular views of the Elwha river valley, and in the fall, migrating Coho salmon.
In the spring and summer of 2009 a near-mile extension of the ODT was completed eastward from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Campus, thus completing extension of the trail from Whitefeather Wy to Blyn Rd.
2010 Railroad Bridge Park Trestle Redesigned
The Dungeness River trestle’s east approach was reconfigured in April to improve access for tandem-riding cyclists, recumbent riders, and those cyclists pulling trailers. The initial constraints in 1992 of a 3000 ft by 100 ft right-of-way necessitated 2 tight and difficult-to-negotiate turns on the ramp. These are gone now, and users enjoy smooth, easy access to and from both ends of the bridge.
2012 Trail Completed to Elwha River
A three year volunteer project constructed 2 miles of trail on the former RR grade to the west PA city limits. The city built a 220 ft. trail bridge over Dry Creek to complete the connection through the city. The County and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe collaborated to construct 1.5 miles of paved trail west to the river.
2014 Major West End Sections Opened
Clallam County completed a 6 mile segment crossing the Sol Duc River, through mature forest to the Camp Creek Trailhead. They also extended the previously paved 6.5 miles from Lake Crescent by 1.5 miles past the Sol Duc Rd and put in a trail crossing of Hwy 101.
The city of Port Angeles completed a new bridge over Ennis Creek and eliminated the much disliked 0.5 mile gravel detour known as the “septic detour” because it ran past the sewage treatment plant.
Jefferson County added 1.5 miles to extend the Larry Scott Memorial Trail portion of the ODT from Port Townsend almost to 4 Corners.
2015 Major Bridge Failure
A late winter storm and resulting runoff severed the trail at the Dungeness Railroad bridge trestle. During 2015 and into early 2106 the trestle was replaced and the bridge deck updated with steel and concrete.
To the west, the Spruce railroad trail upgrade began with the first ½ mile at the Lyre River end.
2016 Expansion continues both east and west
West side work completed the connection between the crossing of 101 and the Sol Duc River section.
Spruce Railroad trail work continued, including the opening of the McFee tunnel on the trails east end. Work began on extending the ODT eastward from Blyn to Diamond Point road.
The 130 mile route of the ODT offers many options for scenic, off- road trips. There are in 3 major sections of non-motorized trail along the route.
Your help and support is making this happen!!
ODT: The ADVENTURE ROUTE SEGMENT
2005 Let the Adventure Begin
Whether on horseback, cycle, or a foot, the Adventure Route is an exhilarating, no-services, out-in-the-woods experience from the State Hwy 112 parking lot to Lake Crescent. Sustainable 8% grades are frequent, and tight downhill switchbacks are thrilling and breathtaking.
This 26-mile route (22 miles single-track & 4 miles of logging road) is an off-road alternative for horsemen, mountain bicyclists and hikers. Hand-built by the Clallam County Chain Gang and the volunteer Thursday Trail Crew using hand tools, chain saws, and mechanical wheelbarrows, they
The OAR is maintained by Adopt-a-Trail members, Backcountry Horsemen Association members and interested nearby residents. These groups have tackled all of these tasks plus contributed toward maintenance of the trail system as winter storms pass, often ravaging trees and freshly made trail. If you are interested in volunteering, please email AaTmanager@olympicdiscoverytrail.org.
A trail connecting Kitsap County with Jefferson County is in the concept stage. This connector trail would continue the 100-mile Mountain to Sound Greenway east of the sound, to Bainbridge Island, across the Kitsap Peninsula and connect with the Olympic Discovery Trail at Discovery Bay.
A suggested route in Jefferson County might be from the Hood Canal Bridge to Port Ludlow, moving close to Anderson Lake State Park and connecting with the ODT somewhere near Eaglemount Rd—a spectacular viewpoint overlooking Discovery Bay.
The Bainbridge-Hood Canal Bridge route would run from downtown Winslow, along State Hwy 305 to the Agate Pass Bridge. From there it would go north to Poulsbo, along the waterfront at Liberty Bay, cross State Hwy 305, move to Big Valley Rd, and then meet State Hwy 3 just east of the Hood Canal Bridge.
The Kitsap-Jefferson county connection could become part of the developing North Kitsap String of Pearls—a cycling route that links the region’s historic waterfront villages with a system of interconnecting trails and open space corridors.
May you be young enough and fortunate enough to ride the dream!