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Originally published Monday, March 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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National Scenic designation likely for Pacific Northwest Trail

The Pacific Northwest Trail is likely to be designated a National Scenic Trail this week, after a legislative journey that for advocates seemed as arduous as parts of the 1,200-mile trail.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Pacific Northwest Trail is likely to be designated a National Scenic Trail this week, after a legislative journey that for advocates seemed as arduous as parts of the 1,200-mile trail.

An attempt to pass a sweeping public-lands bill that included designation for the trail failed this month, when the legislation foundered in the U.S. House over controversies unrelated to the trail, including a debate over carrying guns in national parks.

But last Friday, designation for the trail was folded into a different lands bill that passed the Senate 77-20.

George Behan, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, who is leading the designation effort in the House, said the bill, HR 146, is expected to be taken up in the House on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Designation is intended to bring better maintenance, funding, signage and visibility to the trail, which stretches from Glacier National Park in Montana to Cape Alava on the Pacific Coast, winding through three national parks — Olympic, North Cascades and Glacier — and seven national forests.

Designation also would create a 1,000-foot-wide protected corridor for the trail, where logging and other commercial development would be prohibited. More than 70 percent of the trail passes through lands already protected by parkland or wilderness designation.

Advocates have been working to build, maintain and gain recognition for the trail since the 1970s.

"Finally, finally," Behan said. "You never know, something could come out of left field, like last time, but we are cautiously optimistic that it is going to pass.

"This will elevate the concept of the trail as a contiguous trail, and give it an identity."

Jon Knechtel, acting executive director for the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, has been squirming during the legislative machinations, hoping for approval. "The trail is probably the most scenic trail in the U.S. The whole philosophy in building it was to stay high for the views, and when you walk up to a ridge, you are just in awe."

Watching closely this week will be volunteers who have labored on the Pacific Northwest Trail for years. Joan Melcher, of Mount Vernon, 72, chairman of the board of the trail association, said grubbing roots and rocks out of the trail by hand is a labor of love.

Next weekend, volunteers will be replacing shingles on shelters at Deception Pass State Park, which the trail crosses. Laurence Lazzari has been hand-splitting cedar shakes by the hundreds for the shelters, with the help of other volunteers.

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"It's not something a lot of people know how to do any more," said Lazzari, 84, of Mount Vernon. He is also the sharpener for the volunteer crew, using a hand file to keep an edge on tools used to maintain the trail.

"It is a way to give back. It's quite an asset to the community," he said of the trail.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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