Construction begins on centerpiece of Fort Clatsop expansionBlazing a trail where Capt. William Clark (probably) walked, young workers are helping make the long-awaited fort-to-the-sea hiking trail a reality for Fort Clatsop National Memorial.

Crews from two youth organizations are working at both ends of the trail this month, putting in place the first sections of the six-mile route that is planned for completion in time for the local Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration in November 2005.

The trail is the centerpiece of Fort Clatsop's ambitious expansion effort, which includes the construction of the Netul Landing transit stop south of the park and the inclusion of three sites in Washington within the park's boundaries.

The trail is intended to follow the route that William Clark and a small band of men are believed to have taken in a trek from Fort Clatsop to the sea in December 1805 just after the explorers set up their winter encampment. The trail became one of the regular routes that expedition members used to reach the beach and points to the south, including the saltworks at present-day Seaside.

The new trail heads west from the Fort Clatsop visitor center over Clatsop Ridge, following Perkins Road, and reaches U.S. Highway 101 near the entrance to Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, where the Oregon Department of Transportation plans to build a pedestrian tunnel to carry trail users under the highway. From the west side of the highway, the trail runs along the southeast edge of Camp Rilea, then meanders south between Sunset and Slusher lakes before reaching Sunset Beach Road just east of the beach.

At the Sunset Beach end, a 12-member crew from Northwest Youth Corps is clearing salal, scotch broom and other vegetation and scraping away the thin layer of moss and soil to expose the sand underneath. A general route was marked through the pine forest, and the crew dug a path "where it flows best" through the trees, according to field supervisor Devin Jenkins. After the sand was packed down, the crew spread moss along the edges.

"We're trying to make it look as professional as we can right, from the start," he said.

Based in Eugene, Northwest Youth Corps is a residential job-training and education group serving teens 16 to 19 years old. Under the organization's leadership about 700 youths take part in outdoor projects such as trail-building, noxious weed removal and historic restoration each summer.

The group has worked with Oregon State Parks for 10 years, and has sent crews to such local projects as the new Indian Beach Trail at Ecola State Park.

State parks, which purchased the county-owned Sunset Beach property last year, secured the youth corps' services for two weeks. Fort Clatsop Superintendent Chip Jenkins said the group will complete as much of the route as possible in that time - all the way, it is hoped, to the Camp Rilea boundary.

At Fort Clatsop, another group, the Student Conservation Association, is building a three-quarter-mile loop trial from the park visitor center to the intersection of Fort Clatsop Road and Perkins Road.

The next phase includes the construction of a trailhead at Sunset Beach consisting of a parking lot and restroom. The project, set to begin late this month, is a joint project of state parks and the Oregon National Guard, and is funded by a $90,000 National Park Service grant.

In February a trail crew from North Cascades National Park in Washington is set to tackle the segment along Perkins Road west of Fort Clatsop. Much of that route lies on land still owned by Weyerhaeuser Corp., and while the company has allowed the park service to survey the terrain and map out the trail route, actual work will have to wait until federal funding for the purchase of the property, now in the proposed 2005-06 budget, is approved, most likely early next year, Jenkins said.

Clatsop County vacated Perkins Road earlier this year for use in the trail project. As part of the trail project the rutted dirt road, originally built as a stagecoach road in the late 1800s, will be improved "so it looks less like an abandoned road," Jenkins said.

While the entire project won't be completed until next year, the public is welcome to trek those sections of the trail now under construction by the youth crews, Jenkins said.

"People can come out and start hiking," he said.

The project has benefited from donated services from several design and engineering firms including David Evans and Associates Inc., W&H Pacific, OBEC Consulting Engineers, KPFF Consulting Engineers, as well as Weyerhaeuser Co., Geotechnical Resources Inc., Parametrics, Vigil Agrimis, Inc., Spencer B. Gross, Inc. and Walker Macy.

But the park service still needs money for labor and materials, Jenkins said, including an estimated $150,000 for the Perkins Road stretch. The agency is accepting donations for the project - those interested in giving can get more information by contacting Jenkins at 861-2471 ext. 401 or by email at (chip_jenkins@nps.gov

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