Frequently Asked Questions - Shared-Use Trail

Why is the County building a trail and how do trails benefit me?

Trails positively impact individuals and improve communities by providing recreation and sustainable transportation opportunities and by driving economic and community development. There are a wide range of benefits that result from having these amenities woven into the fabric of our community.

  • Healthy Living: Trails provide a safe, inexpensive, and accessible avenue for regular exercise. Trails help people of all ages, incomes, and abilities incorporate physical wellness into their daily routines by connecting them with places they want or need to go.

  • Transportation: A balanced transportation system includes infrastructure for motor vehicles, transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Trail infrastructure not only creates safer, more sustainable transportation opportunities for cyclists and walkers, but it also reduces road congestion and vehicle/bicycle conflicts which makes the roads safer for motorists.

  • Environmental benefits: Walking or biking to a destination is a 1:1 reduction in vehicle trips, thus reducing noise and air pollution as well as fossil fuel consumption.

  • Accessible Island Culture: Trails have the power to connect us to our community’s cherished and unique resources by providing safe and easy access that promotes the protection of rural character, fosters a connection to the natural environment, and highlights the rich history and culture in the islands.

  • Livability and Community Assets: Trails are the new “town square” where people naturally congregate, meet family and friends, and cultivate connections with neighbors. Trails help build community and ensure that neighborhoods are healthy and vibrant places to live.

  • Accessibility and Connectivity for all: Trails help connect underserved communities to important amenities and resources, such as ferry terminals, parks, local businesses, schools, health care, entertainment and more, which promotes access for and participation by all.

I’m not a biker or hiker – how does the trail benefit me?

Shared-use trails benefit vehicular traffic as well! Shared-use paths adjacent or in close proximity to roadways can have the effect of reducing road congestion and increasing safety for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. By creating a corridor, either separated from or contiguous to the roadway, pedestrians and cyclists are afforded a dedicated path that eliminates the need to travel on the road itself. This separation of transportation modes reduces accidents and conflicts.

The creation of safe and accessible means of non-motorized transportation reduces vehicle trips. This benefits the environment by reducing vehicle emissions which leads to cleaner air for us all. Less vehicle traffic also means less road noise, which contributes positively to the rural character that makes our community so special.

Why this trail? Why is the County pursuing this specific project (Friday Harbor to Zylstra Lake) instead of other trail projects?

A trail from the Town of Friday Harbor to the Zylstra Lake area has appeared in multiple planning documents over the last 20 years and has received support from local clubs and outdoor groups. The Zylstra Lake Preserve, purchased by the County in 2015, is a County-owned asset that is uniquely situated along several priority corridors identified in multiple versions of the Parks, Trails, and Natural Areas (PTNA) Plan. “The goal of many of these corridors is to promote non-motorized transportation, provide safer conditions for biking and walking, and improve connectivity between popular sites, the plan states.

Public support of multi-modal trails has long been demonstrated in public meetings, surveys, research, and planning sessions. Surveys dating back to the 1990s highlight the public’s desire for developed bike paths and walking trails (1999 San Juan County Parks, Recreation, and Preserved Lands Plan) - especially along main island corridors. Over the years, the Parks, Trails, and Natural Areas (PTNA) Plans (developed collaboratively by the Parks, Recreation, and Fair Department, Public Works Department, Conservation Land Bank, County staff and Council members, and members of the public) identified key transportation corridors that experience regular or high-volume traffic and use. The corridors are identified in maps from the 2005, 2010, 2017, and 2022 PTNA Plans. Some of those identified non-motorized transportation corridors extend from the town of Friday Harbor to the Zylstra Lake area and beyond.

When federal funding for the development of transportation infrastructure was announced in 2021, San Juan County looked to its planning documents to determine what projects were priorities as identified by public outreach, comments, and surveys obtained during those past planning efforts. The desire for safer and increased non-motorized transportation opportunities has been a prevailing theme throughout our community for many years; however, substantial funding for the investment in a shared-use trail network or program has not been readily available. There are no current mechanisms in San Juan County to fund large scale non-motorized transportation projects aside from external grant funding and ad hoc road fund expenditures. The Town to Zylstra Lake was selected because it is enumerated in adopted community plans and generally supported by local elected officials, is a finite trail project (a trail with a logical starting point and destination) with a theoretically achievable timeline and could serve as a pilot project for future trail projects. The project was also chosen because of the connectivity it provides from the population hub and ferry terminal of Friday Harbor to the open space and recreation opportunities found on the Zylstra Lake Preserve.

Who is this trail for?

This trail is for everyone! It’s for parents with strollers and little ones on trikes. It’s for bikers and hikers, recreation enthusiasts, and casual walkers of all ages. It’s for neighbors, visitors, families, and seniors. This trail aims to be a community asset that provides safe and accessible recreation and commuter opportunities.

The trail will connect homes outside of town limits in rural areas to essential goods and services like schools, the ferry terminal, medical care, and local businesses. Imagine stepping out your door and walking or biking safely to town to grocery shop, fill prescriptions, or pick up mail - no car or parking hassle required.

Those within the main hub of Friday Harbor will be safely connected to recreation opportunities and beautiful County amenities. Picture a Saturday afternoon where you could buy produce and snacks at the Farmers Market and bike safely out to Zylstra Lake for an afternoon picnic! Take a safe, scenic route through the rural beauty of the islands with your family and leave your car behind.

This trail is a benefit for motorists, too! Trails allow bikers and walkers to move off the roads and reduce congestion on main island corridors. The roads are safer for all road users when pedestrians and cyclists have dedicated spaces to travel.

What is a ‘shared-use’ or ‘multi-modal’ trail?

Shared-use trails — also called multi-modal trails, greenways, or bike paths — are non-motorized transportation corridors designed for use by people of all ages and abilities. Shared-use paths tend to be ADA-compliant and are typically paved but can also utilize other types of surfaces. They are designed as independent facilities for two-way non-motorized travel, supplementing the existing active transportation network and providing flexible transportation options and recreational opportunities in a wide variety of settings.

Shared-use paths serve users who:

Travel by diverse and sustainable transportation modes;

Have a variety of trip purposes, including commuting, shopping, socializing, exercising, and recreating; and

Embody a wide spectrum of ages, abilities, and comfort levels.

What will this trail look like?

In the County’s application for federal funding, the Public Works Department based its estimations off the concept of a proposed paved, 10-foot wide, separated trail that would extend for approximately 2.5 to 3 miles. However, this design is only conceptual at this point and the County is currently in the process of determining site plans and trail layout – a process that will include public comment and landowner outreach.

The trail concept is in the beginning stages of development and the County looks forward to gathering community input to determine how the trail will look and feel. It is important that the trail reflects the community’s needssafe, accessible, bike and stroller-friendly, enjoyable, and much more. Therefore, the County will encourage public engagement and feedback throughout the planning and development process.

How could I be impacted as a neighboring landowner?

As project plans and designs are developed, the County will be in direct communication with the neighboring landowners. Neighbors’ thoughts, opinions, concerns, and ideas will be heard and considered as the project planning and design process takes shape. It is important to the County that the trail reflects the needs of the community – especially those with the most proximity to the project.

As plans develop, the County will work with property owners in the area to explore collaborative options and tools to ensure the neighbors’ needs are being considered and to maximize the project’s success and long-term benefits to the community.

What’s the timeline? When will the trail be built?

The County is working quickly to develop a framework for the project. Trail planning, public input, due diligence, design, and construction will all be components of a robust process and will take time. The County is working to establish a timeline and will provide updates as soon as possible.

How will the project be funded? Who is paying for this trail?

The majority of funding for this project will be comprised of grant funding from the federal government. San Juan County is excited to have the support from Representative Rick Larsen’s Office to bring a highly leveraged multi-million-dollar asset to our community.

In December of 2022, Representative Rick Larsen secured $31,529,221 from the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Spending Package to be used for fifteen projects in his district. For the second year in a row, the spending bill included earmarks for important community projects – including transportation and infrastructure projects.

Larsen secured $5.28 million for San Juan County for the Town to Zylstra Lake Trail, as the proposed project 1) benefits the community it serves; 2) is generally supported by local elected officials and enumerated in adopted community plans; and 3) encompasses a feasible and achievable timeline.

The County plans to apply for other grants and seek additional outside funding to supplement the project and continue to leverage external dollars. The County plans to spend as few local dollars as possible, using the Road Fund as a tertiary funding source and last resort. Public Works has used Road Funds to build sidewalks and shoulder expansions on sections of Weeks Road on Lopez, Enchanted Forest Road on Orcas, Argyle Road on San Juan, and others.

Is this project taking funding from other community needs?

No, this project is not taking funding away from other projects like affordable housing, education, or healthcare. The specific funding used for this project is intended for transportation and infrastructure projects, as administered by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The goals of this legislation include building a safer and more accessible transportation network, strengthening multi-modal transportation systems, supporting underserved communities, repairing infrastructure, reducing pollution, and pursuing environmental justice.

The County is committed to paying responsibly for trail projects and leveraging external funding whenever possible to create the projects locals have identified as priorities.

How will this project affect road project funding?

Pursuing this project will not reduce the County’s level of service or defund other budgeted County Public Works projects and programs. The majority of funding has been secured via a federal grant, and the remaining funds will be comprised of a combination of existing discretionary County road funds and other yet to be determined grant sources.

Where can I learn more about the project?

The project is still in its infancy. Project updates will be available on the County’s new 'Engage San Juan County' platform and social media channels. Use the Engage page to follow project progress, add your questions and ideas, and track important dates. To participate, make sure you're registered in the 'Engage San Juan County' platform.

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