New bridges open access to Washington’s 23-mile-long Willapa Hills Trail

The Willapa Hills Trail keeps getting better — and longer. It’s now possible to walk or even ride a bicycle for 23 miles from Chehalis in Southwestern Washington to Pe Ell without getting stopped by a washed-out bridge.

The State Parks Commission will hold a public dedication to several new bridges on the trail at 10 a.m. June 18, 2016 in Adna. On June 25, the Willapa Hills Festival will celebrate the recent trail work. But any day with decent weather is a good time to explore the trail, which is about an hour’s drive from Kelso.

Walkers and pedalers follow the route of a Northern Pacific rail line built around 1892 to serve busy sawmills and communities such as Dryad and Doty that back in the day had many more residents than live there now. These days, however, you’ll see many more sheep and cows than people along the trail.

The last passenger train ran in 1954, and the route was abandoned in 1990, after which the state parks department acquired the right-of-way.

Work soon began to convert the rail line to a recreational path. Though a central part of the trail opened in 2001, it was broken up when two bridges were washed away by the Chehalis River’s raging waters in 2007. Those bridges were replaced last year, along with decking of the 1,000-foot-long trestle crossing the Chehalis River near Adna.

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