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New Deception Pass trail will lead to massive cedar tree

November 27, 2016 GMT

DECEPTION PASS STATE PARK — Though there are plenty of big cedar trees in Deception Pass State Park, there is one that towers above all others.

And a new trail will allow hikers to get a good look at the massive arbor.

Volunteers from the Skagit, Whatcom, Island Trail Maintenance Organization have started building what will become the Big Cedar Tree Trail on the southern tip of Fidalgo Island.

Deception Pass State Park Manager Jack Hartt is excited to see the trail begin to take shape.

“It’s something that has been in my head for about 10 years,” Hartt said. “There were a lot of questions when we first started out, like if the tree was even located in the park or was it on private property? As it turned out, it was within the park’s boundaries.”

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Hartt figured a loop trail connecting the Pass Lake Loop Trail to the Ginnett Trail would be a good route, and it could pass right below the big tree.

“There was a lot to work out,” Hartt said. “There were some private property issues and the usual environmental and archeological protection type studies that had to be done.”

With all the paperwork processed, trail building has started.

“We mapped it out and it’s a little over a quarter-mile,” Hartt said. “It’s going to make for a beautiful loop trail. Plus, you get to see one of, if not the biggest, cedar tree in the park. And it’s big.”

Hartt said the tree had a sibling at one time. However, that tree toppled during a windstorm several years ago.

“I was like, ‘Oh, no!’ I hope it wasn’t the really big cedar,’” he said. “As it turned out, it wasn’t.”

Hartt expects the trail to be more quiet than many of the other paths inside his park.

“We have a lot of noisy places,” he said. “Here, it’s a very quiet experience. It’s just quiet. It should make for a great experience.”

On a recent trail building day, Doug Shepherd manned a mini-excavator as it clung to the side of a steep gully. Several switchbacks will lead hikers to the bottom of the gully and the home of the big tree.

Other volunteers dotted sections of the roughly hewed trail, busily grubbing out the path.

“This trail is going to be a dandy,” longtime trail-building volunteer Gene Ernst said as he lugged a chain saw through the brush. “Jack has set a really good route.”

Hartt explained the trail’s route was technically difficult, adding that he wanted to make sure the trail got close — but not too close — to the tree.

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“We want to give the tree plenty of respect,” he said. “Of course we know everyone will want to get right up next to it, and there isn’t really anything we can do to stop that. But at least we’ve steered them in a direction away from it.”

The 82-year-old Ernst and his chain saw were kept busy during the work party; there were plenty of toppled trees to deal with.

“It’s been a busy year in general for trees and trails,” Ernst said. “It was the worst I’ve seen.”

The big cedar, however, is standing strong.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this big tree,” Ernst said as he walked around its massive base. “I’d heard about it, but never seen it until we started working on this trail. There is just something about a tree this size.”

The trail will be be open to visitors soon.

Pete Pehl of Oak Harbor, Hugh Campbell of Camano Island and Elsie Pemmant of Samish Island were also part of the Oct. 29 work party.

“I’m part of the Whidbey Island contingent,” Pehl said as he worked up a sweat clearing brush and branches to make way for the path.

The retired Navy diver and civilian dive instructor said this volunteer group is great to work with.

“Strong backs and weak minds,” Pehl joked. “That is what they are looking for. I just happened to hear about it. It’s good exercise and you get to see some stuff not a lot people get to see. It’s great.”

The 79-year-old Campbell has been involved with trail building for about a decade. He said the trail will be a sight to see when it opens.

Pemmant was impressed with the tree and the route.

“Once it’s all done, it’s going to be great,” she said. “I’m excited to see what it will look like when it’s all done.”

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