Building the Iron Goat Trail
Volunteer Makes a Difference
The Iron Goat Trail is a rail-to-trial conversion along the old Great Northern Railway grade within the Stevens Pass Historic District in Washington State. Since 1990 volunteers have transformed this abandoned railway bed into a 10-mile hiking trail. Families, tourists, organized groups, rail fans and hikers of all abilities tread through lovely forests of ferns, alders and evergreens from Martin Creek to the Wellington townsite. About 10,000 people a year walk this historical scenic interpretive trail. It is featured in guidebooks, tourism brochures, railroad history accounts and trail websites. More than half of Iron Goat Trail is built to ADA standards. Workers with Volunteers for Outdoor Washington and the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest have amassed about 150,000 volunteer hours with almost 60 work parties and 100 individual volunteers every year since the project started.
From the beginning Dennis Evans has led the effort as chief crew leader, and in December he accepted the Forest Service Pacific Northwest regional Trails Volunteer of the Year award for his work. “Dennis has been a steady force, logging a staggering 4,538 hours and leading 648 work parties,” said Tom Davis, trails specialist for the Skykomish Ranger District. Davis said Evans has also served as Volunteers for Outdoor Washington president and board member, historic site steward, interpretive hike leader, maintenance crew leader, and since 2008 the Iron Goat Trail coordinator. In this capacity Evans serves as the liaison with the Forest Service, completes grant applications, oversees budget matters, and helps organize and schedule work party activities, adding an additional 500 to 1,000 hours per year in these administrative duties. During the field season Evans drives from his home in Marysville, Wash., to the trail twice a week without fail. Often he is accompanied by his wife, Sandy, who he met volunteering in 1992 and married three years later on the Iron Goat Trail.
The retired electrical engineer said he just picked up carpentry on the job. He also pursued classes in trail design, construction and specifications for ADA accessibility. Although he said it is hard to choose any one thing he enjoys most about volunteering, Evans finds managing structure construction particularly rewarding. Davis praises the high quality of Evans’ puncheon bridges and showcase-quality trails, “Dennis has been known to deploy a transit to get the grades just right,” Davis said.
Evans started out volunteering because it was a good way to get outdoors, with one important difference: “With trail work, at the end of the day you can say you’ve accomplished something,” he said.
He has had his work cut out for him. In 2000, after building a puncheon and platform at the mouth of the Old Cascade Tunnel, the tunnel ceiling collapsed, violently spilling a debris flow of mud and rock that wiped out the platform. In 2007 he spent all summer on flood damage repairs at “Stream Number 3,” a project that diverted the trail, installed a puncheon bridge and built a huge rock ramp. That winter an avalanche destroyed it. Every year he and his volunteers are clearing debris or repairing avalanche damage. “I wish it would stop,” Evans said, with a smile. But he doesn’t let the obstacles stop him: he returns year after year. “The projects I love to work on are those I see through from beginning to end,” he said.
Learn more about volunteering on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mbs/volunteering.