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General public kept in the dark about paved trail to Zylstra Lake

Wondering what those No Trail signs are referring to? It's opposition to a proposed $6.6 million 10-feet-wide  paved trail from the Town of Friday Harbor limits to Zylstra Lake. San Juan County's handling of the trail 'plans' is a classic example of gaslighting. There are significant differences in what is said about the project and what actually occurred. 

The county was awarded a $5.2 million earmark for the multi-modal project from the federal government at the request of U.S. Representative Rick Larsen. 

"Thanks to the unwavering support of Congressman Rick Larsen, the long planned for and much discussed Zylstra Lake trail is now a reality,” said County Manager Mike Thomas. “The Congressional appropriation will fund a 2.5 mile walking and cycling pathway where residents and visitors alike will be able to enjoy 285 acres of habitat and trails in a truly unique and unforgettable island setting.”

The reference to "long planned and much discussed" surprised many of the neighboring property owners when they showed up at the lake during Rep. Larsen's visit to San Juan Island on January 20, 2023. Several of them expressed concern saying they hadn't heard about the trail.  

No plans actually existed. County Administrator Mike Thomas wrote in an April 27, 2022 email to Larsen's staff:  

My responses are thin because the trail is more concept than project at this point. We know it will fit in the right-of-way, what is will cost roughly, and that if funded, can be done relatively quickly. 

Actually, the project requires the purchase of 30 easements according to county documents. 

Another requirement was that the project was on the county's STIP (statewide transportation plan). The county wrote on its application that the project was not on the STIP but that they would add it if the county was awarded the funds.

Rep. Larsen, apparently misinformed by the county, told the neighbors that the project had been on the county's six-year TIP (Traffic Improvement Project list). 

The six-year TIP is the means by which the public stays aware of upcoming transportation projects. The six-year TIP list is the result of a public process that details the road/trail projects planned each year for the next six years. Costs and sources of funding are included on the spreadsheet. The list is subject to change from year to year. Obviously one year is dropped off and another one added. Also some projects are dropped off as circumstances change. Others are moved up the list depending on needs and funding availability. The changes are part of the public process.

Plans for a trail from Zylstra Lake to Friday Harbor were not included in the updated ROSS Recreation, Open Space, and Stewardship Plan. In fact the creation of separated bike trails was considered infeasible due to the expense.

The only project mentioning Zylstra Lake in the ROSS plan is: 

Create 2 miles of hiking trail from upper Zylstra Lake to Bailer Hill Road outside of the floodplain of False Bay Creek. It is listed in the implementation section of the 198-page ROSS 

The county's answer to the question: Any known or anticipated community concerns associated with this project? 

The county is unaware of any concerns with the project. The trail will be within the county right-of-way which will eliminate the need to acquire private property.


Begins in Town at the hospital and ends at the Land Bank Preserve

Paved 10-foot trail surface residing in a new 30-foot right of way easement

Three-year expedited project schedule


Project Management |  $180,000 | Two years

Design Services  |  $500,000  |  By consultant

Permitting Services  |  $150,000  |  By consultant

Right of Way

Project Management |  $ 60,000 |  Concurrent with Engineering

Acquisition Services  |  $300,000  |  30 Parcels @ $10,000 / Parcel

Acquisition Costs  |  $450,000  |  11 Acres @ $35,000 / Acre + improvements


Project Management |  $120,000  |  One year

Inspection Services  |  $350,000  |  $7 Months  @ $50,000 / Month

Construction  |  $3,600,000  |  3 Miles @ $1,200,000 / Mile

Wetland Mitigation  |  $140,000 On Land Bank property

Subtotal  |  $6,000,000

10% Contingency |  $600,000

Project Estimate |  $6,600,000

The grant is for $5.28 million. According to the resolution, the county will use county road funds to make up the difference between  the grant amount and the final cost. 


  • Jim Reuscher Tuesday, 22 August 2023 11:58 Comment Link Report

    Does this mean that it's a done deal or is there still opportunity to express opposition to the trail and stop the progress ?
    Me for one am opposed to the trail.......for a number of reasons.
    Once you get people out to Zylstra, What then ?
    Do we want increased people out trampling one of our premier nature preserves ?
    Who is going to benefit from this trail ? As I see it this is strictly being built for the benefit of the tourist industry !

    There are a lot more reasons to oppose the trail but here is a good place to start.

    Now , who slipped this thing into our master plans without proper public notification, discussion, meetings and votes ? What disciplinary actions can and will be implemented against this individual(s). I remember back 10 years or so 2 county commissioners discussed some procedural item outside of the confines of the meeting hall (backroom private) and one of them was forced to resign.
    Just saying

  • J Allen Saturday, 19 August 2023 08:54 Comment Link Report

    I have been cycling on San Juan Island for over 20 years and love it!! Do I need a bike path to continue enjoying my rides? No, it's a waste of money, the roads are in great condition and for the most part, we island drivers are courteous. Give back the monies, help preserve our rural character and minimize impervious surfaces in and around our farmlands.

  • Jaime Ellsworth Wednesday, 16 August 2023 07:38 Comment Link Report

    No Trail.

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