BELLINGHAM - A new 1.2-mile trail in Larrabee State Park connects the Cyrus Gates Overlook to the South Lost Lake Trail below - taking hikers past high cliff bands and geologic features that are a snapshot of climatic events millions of years ago.
Called the Rock Trail, it was built with the help of volunteers led first by Ken Wilcox, known for writing hiking guides for Whatcom and Skagit counties, and then later by the Washington Trails Association. More than 100 volunteers have put in more than 2,000 hours on the project.
"Get out and enjoy it. It's a magical place," said Wilcox, who now lives in Washington, D.C., but is credited with being the initial driving force behind the trail and designing the upper half of it.
Arlen Bogaards, the northwest regional manager for the Washington Trails Association, designed the other half and is now leading the volunteers. He said the route "is already causing a stir in the local hiking and running community."
"We tried to really incorporate it into the landscape so it looks like it fits. It's got great flow. It takes you past truck-sized boulders that sit there," Bogaards said of the trail's design.
He said the trail isn't for horses or bikers because of its steep and rugged nature.
It creates a shorter hike down to Lost Lake and hooks into nearby trails to create new loops.
A dedication is set for April 26.
While the Rock Trail is pretty much done and already being used, this weekend volunteers were building a short connector from the parking lot of the overlook at the end of Cleator Road off Chuckanut Drive.
Features on the trail include a drop into a ravine near the start, with about 100 steps put in by volunteers; a wealth of moss and licorice fern; cliffs more than 100 feet high; a 20-foot log bridge; a maturing second-growth forest; views of Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters on a clear winter day; and a geologic history lesson of the Chuckanut Range.
"It's real nice geological exposures. In one place there are these large pockets, or holes, that have eroded back into almost the vertical rock face," Bellingham geologist Dave Tucker said. It's the same erosion process that created the honeycomb pattern people may have seen in rocks along the shoreline at Larrabee State Park.
"These are kind of unusual because they're up in the hills," said Tucker, who blogs about the geology found along trails at nwgeology.wordpress.com and is writing one about the Rock Trail.
If they know what they're looking for, hikers also can see thin sandstone layers in the Chuckanut Formation, which make up the different rocks in the range with sandstone predominating. The layers were left by streams flowing westward from the Rocky Mountains 50 million years ago, during a subtropical environment and before the Cascade Mountains grew up in the way, Tucker said.
The trail was made possible, in part, by a $4,000 grant from Bellingham REI. The project goes back to a multi-agency plan crafted in 1996.
Ranger Paul McEvers, who manages Larrabee State Park, praised the work of all the volunteers.
"It's a great, wonderful new trail," he said.
ROCK TRAIL DEDICATION
A ceremony for the new 1.2-mile Rock Trail in Larrabee State Park is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, April 26, in the parking lot at Cyrus Gates Overlook, which is at the end of Cleator Road off Chuckanut Drive.
Bellingham geologist Dave Tucker, who writes the "Northwest Geology Field Trips" blog, is writing a field guide for the Rock Trail and will post it in April. Find his blog, which features write-ups of the geology of northwest Washington and southwest British Columbia, at nwgeology.wordpress.com.
Tucker will lead a geology field trip for the public as part of the dedication.