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County to blaze a new trail

A trail that will connect Langley with the wooded trails in South Whidbey Community Park will now be much closer to Maxwelton Road than originally planned.

The Maxwelton Trail, which was known until this week as the Cedars Trail, is now mapped and surveyed to run along the east side of Maxwelton Road and onto Langley Road to connect the park to Langley Road. In the works for more than five years, the trail has not exactly been on the construction fast track. Construction, which was planned to start this year, is now expected to start in 2004.

While the original plan would have run the trail along an informal footpath running across 15 properties, the new trail design will require up to seven property owners living along Maxwelton Road to sell easements to Island County. The county's engineering department is now trying to figure out the trail's exact route.

"We're looking at how best to make the trail fit that route," said Gary Hess, Island County's engineer for the project.

The pedestrian path will begin at the intersection of Maxwelton and Langley Roads and travel south to the park. An actual trail design is the next crossroads in the plan.

"Once we can get through the planning and design process construction can begin," Hess said.

The proposed trail will be about 10 feet wide. Hess said he and other engineers working on the project have not yet decided whether to pave the trail or not. As recently as December 2001, the plan was to build the trail with a crushed rock surface.

A vegetation barrier and a fence will be used to separate walkers, bicyclists and runners on the trail from vehicle traffic on Maxwelton Road. In some places, the trail and road will run within 6 feet of one another.

The project will be partially funded by a $300,000 state Department of Transportation grant. The remainder will be paid out by Island County. Hess did not have a total cost figure for the project.

"We don't know what that amount will be until the project is put out for bid," he said.

Hess says his department will be contacting landowners whose parcels adjoin Maxwelton Road for input and to request easements if needed. The county's right-of-way measures between 60 and 40 feet along Maxwelton Road, wide enough in some spots to accommodate the trail without additional easement purchases. Trail crossings at schools and the intersection of Langley and Maxwelton roads will be built into the design.

The trail as planned is expected to measure about two miles in length and will connect trails at the park with Langley's cross-town walkway via the widened shoulder on Langley Road. The cross-town walkway is a system of widened shoulders and asphalt walking paths that can take walkers from the fairgrounds to Brooks Hill Road.

Since most of the funding for the project comes from the federal government, the trail will have to be accessible to people of all physical abilities. It must also be wide enough for two-way walking, bicycling and horse traffic.

The trail's original plan was thrown out to by the engineering department because it became impractical. Hess said only a handful of the 15 property owners living along the proposed trail route agreed to allowing easements. Instead of pursuing a condemnation process to attain the easements, engineers chose to try a new route.

"We began looking at both east and west sides of Maxwelton Road, before settling on the present route," Hess said.

This week, Hess was quick to point out that this new trail is not connected in any way to the Cedars housing development in Langley.

"We should rename this project to end the confusion," Hess said.

The county did just that this week.

In the early 1990s, when the Cedars housing development was first conceived, trails were planned, but the new home owners made it clear they were not interested in providing easements for public access.

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