Many hands, lighter work — trail improved | Guest column

The “puncheon” shown above was installed Dec. 3 on Mitchell Hill’s Kneeknocker Trail. It spans a portion of the trail saturated by a thin stream of seasonal water runoff.  - Contributed photo / Theresa Simendinger
The “puncheon” shown above was installed Dec. 3 on Mitchell Hill’s Kneeknocker Trail. It spans a portion of the trail saturated by a thin stream of seasonal water runoff.
— image credit: Contributed photo / Theresa Simendinger

By Theresa Simendinger

Special to the Journal

A favorite connector trail traditionally known as Kneeknocker Trail, which weaves between the "logging road" circling Briggs Lake and the Mitchell Hill trail, was improved by the placement on Dec. 3 of a critical "puncheon" that crosses a seasonally muddy area, occasionaly saturated by a trickle of runoff midway along the trail. A puncheon is a very low and short wooden platform.

Years of negotiation and planning preceded construction of the crossing, which was built and installed by a work party representing various recreational groups and Parks employees.

Rik Karon has been riding the trails in that area on horseback for 30 years. Mark Hetrick, a member of the local biking community, has enjoyed these trails for years as well.

Hetrick and Karon noticed a slow deterioration of the area. Karon never gave up on his negotiating skills. National Parks Service Ranger David Harsh attended meetings and coordinated between National Parks and the groups. Hetrick's extensive construction background had the job organized and well prepared, with the help of Mike Lazzari of the San Juan Island Trails Committee. Dave Zeretzke, also of the trails committee, petitioned the committee for funding. San Juan Island Trails Committee is a branch of Island Rec, which donated funds for the project.

Four students from Spring Street School International School, all from south China, fulfilled community-service project hours by joining 22 local park lovers, hikers, bikers, equestrians, and six San Juan National Park Service Rangers.

The rangers included San Juan Island National Historical Park Acting Superintendent Steve Gibbons and his wife, Gina Rochfort, both career parks service employees. Gibbons gave the final "okay" on the project. He later wrote:

"Thanks very much to all of the volunteers for all your hard work and camaraderie in support of the puncheon installation at the Mitchell Hill unit yesterday. Personally, it was an honor for me to meet the volunteers and to work side-by-side with all of you in support of protecting such a great resource while at the same time enhancing recreational opportunities for the public."

Lars Sjohlm, a hiker and biker since 1979, said he was, "... amazed to see the project actually happen and to work with such an enthusiastic group."

Parks supplied not only manpower, but also tools, including a truck and a Gator to move gravel and lumber close to the site. The volunteers and rangers worked together hauling in lumber and tools and providing a friendly work force for installation of the puncheon.

Homemade cookies brought by the volunteers were passed around to celebrate the completion of the puncheon. It felt like this was a special moment of community cooperation and that the upgrading of a trail loved by so many was worth celebrating.

Everyone who worked on this effort will smile each time they safely cross the area on the fine new puncheon, remembering this day of community spirit.

— Editor’s note: Steve Gibbons recently replaced former San Juan Island NPS superintendent Peter Dederich, who has taken another position within the Parks Service.

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