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15-mile Radius Project: Exploring every trail near home

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Photos by Hannah Singleton.
By Hannah Singleton

sat on my living room couch listening to the steady drumming of rain on the roof. Over the last hour, the world outside had succumbed to the kind of slow-setting darkness that sneaks up on you. I hadn’t noticed the need to turn on my house lights. My roommate walked in the door and said, “Why are you sitting in the dark?” I looked at the clock. It was 4 p.m.

The November days were still getting shorter, which meant each morning I wanted to snuggle under the covers for just a little bit longer. It was the time of year when the rain really sets in and those of us who live in this lush northwest corner of the United States realize the sacrifice implied by the title, “The Evergreen State.” I realized I needed a game plan for the next six months. I pulled up a map and started looking at the trails in my area.

I wanted to turn my attention to the local after a summer in the wilderness. I decided to call my plan the 15-mile radius project; the goal was to hike, run, or walk every trail within 15 miles of my house. As I scanned the map, I saw trails I didn’t know existed. I tried to add up the numbers to see what I was in for. Five miles of trails in Whatcom Falls Park, eight miles on Lookout Mountain, dozens in the Chuckanuts; I didn’t even want to think about adding Galbraith to the mix. “Is this even possible?” I wondered as I tried to solidify my plan.

In Whatcom County, a 15-mile radius covers a lot of ground. It spans up toward Lynden, down almost to Sedro-Woolley, and includes many types of public land. I started out in town – first, the Salmon Woods Open Space in my backyard, then the Railroad Trail. I quickly realized that without organization, I would be more likely to procrastinate or make excuses. So I wrote a list of trails in the area and organized them by mileage. That way, if I knew I had only a couple of hours, I could pick an appropriate trail; no more excuses.

I’ve now hiked on Lummi Island, near Alger and on Blanchard Mountain. My list of hiked trails keeps growing but the mileage remaining doesn’t seem to get any smaller – the number of trails is unbelievable. Although I always knew we were lucky to have such great trail access, it became more real when I set out to hike all of them. No matter where you live or how long you’ve been there, taking a closer look at your 15-mile radius is bound to turn up trails you’ve never experienced.

Perhaps my favorite part of the project so far was finding a new access point to a popular destination. This route follows a faint trail along a ridge and feels as if you’re stepping into rarely explored territory right in the middle of a popular state park. No trailhead, just a hint of a path off into the woods. I won’t list the name because that takes the fun out of pointing to a dotted line on the map and stumbling upon these places for yourself.

my 15-mile radius project has renewed the sense of adventure that I first felt when I got my license. No trail is too small or insignificant; every bit of public land is worth exploring.

As a 16-year-old in suburban Maryland, getting a driver’s license opened up my whole world – I took any excuse to get out and explore my local area. I scoured the internet for quirky points of interest, abandoned buildings and historic villages. I spent hours in my car with my sisters, my best friend or by myself driving on highways, rural roads and through small towns. No place was too small or insignificant – we wanted to see and experience everything.

In my adult life, I replaced this style of exploration with pre-planned activities and big destinations. A free summer weekend usually means hiking a backcountry trail I’ve been dying to check out or climbing at a crag a couple hours away. But my 15-mile radius project has renewed the sense of adventure that I first felt when I got my license. No trail is too small or insignificant; every bit of public land is worth exploring. I want to know it all.  

 

Hannah Singleton was born and raised on the East Coast but moved out West after college and never looked back. After years of living in the Rocky Mountain West, Hannah moved to Bellingham, where she works seasonally as an environmental educator and backpacking guide. She loves to share her enthusiasm for her local environment and public lands, and wants to see people getting outside in whatever capacity suits them.