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Wednesday, November 5, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Snohomish County recreation

Rides to lengthen on Centennial Trail

Times Snohomish County bureau

EVERETT — After a 20-year struggle, former state Rep. John Wynne made sure he witnessed last week's key vote by the Snohomish County Council to finally build a trail extension between Arlington and Lake Stevens.

"I expect the Centennial Trail to be the largest tourist attraction in the county," Wynne said, when it eventually reaches north to the Skagit County line.

The trail now stretches seven miles between Snohomish and Lake Stevens. The next piece, which could open by next fall, will more than double the trail's length to 16 miles.

Given the project's tortuous history, it seemed fitting that even the council's unanimous vote took some time.

Before a $4.6 million contract was awarded to build the next nine-mile section, two councilmen strongly complained about the state's environmental-mitigation requirements for the project. Mitigation is necessary because trail construction requires filling some wet sections along the route, a former railroad corridor.

The state Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delayed the trail extension for five years while the county worked to find acceptable mitigation sites, said Marc Krandel, the county's principal parks planner.

The contractor, Strider Construction of Bellingham, will build three county wetlands projects in addition to the trail. But County Councilman John Koster, R-Arlington, said he was concerned that one of them — a 10-acre wetland to be created just south of Gissberg Twin Lakes County Park, near Marysville — could be a potential breeding ground for the West Nile virus, too close to a popular park.

"I can't believe that there's not another place between Marysville and Arlington to create a swamp," Koster said.

Meanwhile, other work on the older section of trail has been completed, and two major underpasses are in place. In 1997, the county used a $1 million federal grant to built a trail tunnel beneath Highway 92, and in 2000 it used a mix of federal and local money to build a $750,000 underpass for the trail at 108th Street Northeast.

The county obtained several continuations of a $1.6 million state grant awarded in 1993 for the Lake Stevens-to-Arlington stretch of trail.

The Department of Ecology had threatened the county that it could lose its grant for the project if a contract wasn't awarded by Nov. 2.

Koster and Councilman Jeff Sax, R-Snohomish, suggested the county ask the state Auditor's Office to investigate Ecology's handling of the trail project. Council Chairman Gary Nelson, R-Edmonds, said that would be a legitimate request, because the trail involves state funding.

The county already owns the right of way needed for the 10-mile third phase to Skagit County.

In the long run, the south end of the trail is to be extended east from Snohomish to Monroe and then south to the King County line, where it would connect with the regional trail system. When finished, the trail would measure 44 miles.

The new nine-mile section will include two trailheads, one at the new northern terminus on 67th Avenue Northeast, just north of 152nd Street Northeast, and the other near Highway 92 and 127th Drive Northeast.

The Centennial Trail got its start more than 20 years ago, when the Lake Stevens Chamber of Commerce and a group of hikers, equestrians and cyclists proposed a nine-mile trail to Arlington.

Wynne, a Republican who represented Lake Stevens, was among the early advocates.

Development of the trail's first phase began in 1989, the state's centennial. The Snohomish-to-Lake Stevens section was built in 1993 and now attracts more than 200,000 people per year.

A large group of trail users and county parks-board members attended last week's County Council meeting to encourage approval of the contract.

Chuck Karczewski approached the microphone in his wheelchair.

"This thing (the Centennial Trail) is the best thing that's happened," said Karczewski, a parks-board member. "It gives us a chance to get out where otherwise we couldn't."

Fellow board member Barbara Berg, a horsewoman, followed him to the podium.

"To get on that trail, to ride my bike, ride my horse, it's such a stress reliever," she said. "Our land is disappearing; we're paving a lot of places. We need a place where we can go and enjoy nature."

Before the vote, Koster said he's never used the trail. But his father does, he added.

"My dad and stepmom said, 'If you don't approve this, John, we're not going to be very happy with you.' "

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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