By Polly Keary, Editor
Jeff Rasmussen of Monroe knows better than most people the value of a trail.
A little over a year ago, dismayed at his weight, he decided to take up running. He set himself a goal of running a half marathon, and set to training.
Just 13 months later, he has completed 13 half marathons, and has lost 70 pounds.
And much of that training he did on the Centennial Trail, a broad paved path that follows 30 miles of old railroad bed between Snohomish and the Skagit County line.
In recent weeks, during his campaign for a Monroe City Council seat, Rasmussen has stated a goal of bringing the Centennial Trail to Monroe, believing that it could not only help people live healthy lifestyles, but that it could help the local economy, too.
Why the trail
Dapper in a bow tie and vest, Rasmussen stepped away from his job at a Snohomish bank Friday to take a short stroll along the newest section of the Centennial Trail, which pushed from the town’s north edge to the center of town about two years ago.
As he trained with a team of other runners through the last year, the trail was enormously helpful, he said.
“We’d start at Machias and run five miles this direction, and then back,” he said.
He benefitted greatly from using the trail, he said, but he’s also noticed what the trail extension did for Snohomish, citing in particular a small eatery called the Trail’s End Taphouse and Restaurant.
“I watched the Trail’s End go from a place that had a few beers on tap to a really busy place with outdoor dining,” he said.
It reminded him of another place that benefitted from the addition of a trail; the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, where he grew up.
“There’s a big canyon, it’s got a steep road and I remember as a kid we’d rollerblade down,” he said. “In the last years, I noticed the hill had more walkers and runners than cars. The city took notice and made a trail.”
Today, he said, the trail has transformed the area.
“There’s upscale restaurants and hotels,” he said. “Now they are extending the trail to where Evel Knieval did his jump (at the Snake River Canyon.) It’s incredible what they’ve done and the impacts are amazing.”
Another example of the business a trail can bring to an area is the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, he added.
“During the summer there are eight bike racks all filled to capacity and you can’t get a table,” he said.
Certainly the Centennial Trail is emerging as a race venue; according to Snohomish County Parks Director Tom Teigen, seven years ago there were four events on the trail and this year there were 20.
Another candidate to cite the potential benefits of bringing the trail to Monroe is mayoral candidate Geoffrey Thomas.
It would make an ideal site for the growing number of races and triathlons coming to town, he said. It could offer local bicyclists a way to train and ride that is much safer than riding on the area’s shoulder-less roads. And it would make staying in shape much more convenient and fun.
“Imagine being able to get up Saturday and ride your bike to Snohomish with your family, spend part of the day and come back to Monroe,” he said.
What it would take
The problem is, of course, money.
The Centennial Trail is actually a long and slender park, part of the Snohomish County Parks system.
In order to bring the trail to Monroe, it would have to roughly follow the path of the Old Snohomish-Monroe Road, entering Monroe at Lake Tye Park.
The good news is that the Parks Department has already bought most of the land needed for the trail.
Also encouraging to trail boosters is that the Parks Department has included the extension in its 2012 draft parks plan.
But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen soon.
“It’s not inexpensive,” said Parks Director Tom Teigen. “It will take a number of years and several million dollars.”
There’s extensive planning to be done, then the construction of the actual trail itself, which gets expensive when streams or wetlands must be crossed.
But Teigen said that the trail to Monroe is a priority.
“Both candidates are right,” he said. “That’s something we are interested in doing. We know that trails are incredibly important, a regional asset. The best thing people can do is walk 20-30 minute a day, so the idea of a city-to-city trail is important to us. Public Works, Parks, (County Executive) John Lovick, all understand how important for livability it is.”
One way to get the funding, he said, is to seek grants, especially conservation grants. Also mitigation fees from developers can be used for trails in some cases.
The city of Monroe can take steps to help bring the trail about, said Thomas.
“The majority of the trail is in the county,” he said. “What that involves is working regionally with the county, and other partners and cities who would see value in the connection, like Snohomish, to leverage support for grants from the Recreation Conservation Office.”
Residents, too, have a role to play, said Jeff Rasmussen.
“From a citizen standpoint, it’s contacting your local officials and saying, ‘This something we want,’” he said.