Sunday, August 27, 2017

Thurston County Fire Destroys Historic Home, Habitat

Above: Looking north over 183rd Street in Rochester, a DC-10 drops red colored flame retardant to help stop the Scatter Creek area fire in south Thurston County on August 22. The historic Miller-Brewer House and barn were destroyed in the fire. Photo courtesy George Ormrod.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The Scatter Creek area fire near Rochester in south Thurston County burned 485 total acres on August 22, prompting the temporary evacuation of about 100 residents. It also destroyed several homes.

In the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, the historic Miller-Brewer homestead, built in 1860, and a barn were also destroyed. The homesite was listed on the National Historic Register.

Fire crews from several neighboring counties helped to control the blaze, as did the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, which is leading an investigation of the fire.

Rochester resident George Ormrod became aware of the Rochester – Grand Mound area fire when he heard a DC-10 fly low over his home near 183rd Street. He went out and saw the plane dropping red colored flame retardant.

Hopping on a scooter, he weaved around back roads until stopped by a road block near the Grand Mound cemetery where he spoke with an emergency management official. She informed him that the fire was four miles from his home and he did not need to evacuate the area.

A press release issued on Friday by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) says state wildlife managers are assessing the damage caused by the fire. The south side of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area in Thurston County is closed until further notice.

Owned and managed by WDFW, 345 acres of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area was burned, and provides a sanctuary for several threatened and endangered wildlife species, including Taylor's checkerspot and mardon skipper butterflies and the Mazama pocket gopher.

The wildlife area is a popular destination for hiking, birdwatching, dog training and upland bird hunting in the south Puget Sound area, said Brian Calkins, regional WDFW wildlife manager.

“This fire is truly a tragedy,” Calkins said. “We put our heart and soul into restoring this remaining piece of rare native prairie, and we know a lot of people are going to feel this loss as much as we do.”

Calkins said fire damage will likely affect some activities scheduled in the burned, southern unit of the wildlife area, including upland bird hunting this fall. However, the 435 acre section of the wildlife area on the north side of Scatter Creek was largely unscathed by the wildfire and remains open to the public.

The WDFW will immediately begin work to restore the burnt landscape south of Scatter Creek. Based on a preliminary estimate, that work will cost more than $1 million.

“We're invested in the future of this area, and we're already starting to plan recovery efforts to protect the prairie for use by animals and people,” Calkins said. “We will be putting a lot of effort into weed control and replanting.”

Scatter Creek is one of 33 state wildlife areas managed by WDFW to provide habitat for fish and wildlife as well as land for outdoor recreation.

Above: The historic Miller-Brewer House and a nearby barn were destroyed in the fire on August 22. Photo Courtesy Hans Littooy.

Miller-Brewer House Historic Site

Hans Littooy, of Olympia, offered Little Hollywood pictures he took on August 16 of the Miller-Brewer House, the oldest home in Thurston County at the Scatter Creek Prairie. 

“I often go to the Scatter Creek southern unit with my dog to enjoy the prairie elements, be it flora or landscape. Prairies are a very special landscape in our area and unfortunately misused,” said Littooy, a retired landscape architect.

A Greek Revival style house, the Miller-Brewer home was historically significant for its box frame construction, a method only used during early pioneer settlement in Washington from 1855 through 1875, and was one of the few examples left in the Pacific Northwest.

Historically, George and Marita Miller traveled north by wagon from Oregon to take a donation land claim on the banks of Scatter Creek in the late 1850s. The house, built by Miller, is set on open prairie land adjacent to Scatter Creek, and shaded by a grove of native oak trees. Miller was a farmer as well as a territorial representative.

The property was sold to Reece Brewer, an old friend of Miller’s who had moved to Grand Mound from Oregon with his wife in 1858. Brewer was an accomplished stockman, sold cream to creameries, and was a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1871. He was also the local postmaster, fulfilling his out of the house, a justice of the peace at Grand Mound, and an elected a Thurston County commissioner in 1888 and 1890. He lost three wives to pneumonia.

In the 1960s, one of Brewer’s children, Fred, sold the property to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly the Department of Game) which used the Miller-Brewer House since the 1960s in a variety of capacities. 

It was nominated and placed on the National Historic Register in 1988.

Above: The historic Miller-Brewer barn was destroyed in the fire on August 22. Photo Courtesy Hans Littooy.

Littooy said he and his family came from the Netherlands to Iowa in 1968 and that the house and barn have always fascinated him.   

“I loved those buildings and at one time even dreamt of replicating the old home for myself. So much for the dream….It irritates me that we are so careless with the history of this country. This house could have been a museum about life in the 1870s. How much more of Thurston County history is in danger? How much is left?” Littooy said.

Above:  The barn on the property of the historic Miller-Brewer House was also destroyed in the fire. Photo Courtesy Hans Littooy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Olympia Bridge Restoration Underway

Above: Workers have been restoring downtown Olympia’s Fourth Avenue bridge for about ten weeks. The bulk of the project involves cleaning and painting, however, some repairs are also being done. The project is being funded out of the City of Olympia's transportation general fund for $451,962.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

For the past ten weeks, thousands of commuters have watched a crew at work on the Fourth Avenue bridge in downtown Olympia.

Formally known as the Olympia-Yashiro Friendship Bridge, the bridge spans Budd Inlet, the southernmost portion of Puget Sound. 

A critical east-west transportation link for the city, the bridge symbolically connects the Olympia community in many other ways as well.

While the bulk of the project involves cleaning and painting, some crack repair is also being done to prevent future water intrusion. Water damage causing significant pockmarks and spalling of cement pieces has occurred in about 250 feet of the bridge.

A contract amount of $451,962 was given to Finishing Touch Masonry and Restoration Solutions, LLC, of Everett.

The project is considered a transportation project and is being funded out of the city’s transportation general fund.

“This project was not bid per our typical design-bid build process however it is a U.S. Communities project and these types of projects meet the competitive bidding requirements,” said Jeff Johnstone, project manager and senior engineer with the City of Olympia, when asked about the cost.   

The U.S. Communities Project is a partnership formed in 2009 among the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

The city’s use of U.S. Communities was approved by city council in 2016.

Johnstone added that after the work is complete, the bridge will retain its shiny white appearance, and should only need to be pressure washed once a year.

“I never realized how grubby it had gotten until I saw side by side pictures,” said Johnstone.

Prior to construction of the bridge, Johnstone said that the city tested multiple different coating products.

“These products were applied to concrete panels and allowed to sit for the winter in order to determine how well they held up to our winter conditions and how easy they were to clean. Graffiti testing was also conducted on each coating. The coating being used was selected because it is a single step coating process and once the coating container is opened, it can be resealed and saved for later use, similar to a can of paint,” he said.

Above: The Olympia-Yashiro Friendship Bridge, better known as the Fourth Avenue bridge, spans Budd Inlet, the southernmost tip of Puget Sound.

Workers interviewed on Tuesday were disappointed that their completed work on the south side of the bridge has already been tagged with graffiti.

“It takes a couple minutes to tag, but takes a lot more time than that to clean it off,” said Rick Schindler, a restoration mason and project foreman with Finishing Touch Masonry.

Schindler, of Everett, has been busy with Ken Hester, of Shoreline, to brush, hand scrape, seal, vacuum, and pressure wash the bridge. He recently hired another employee to speed up the work and says he hopes to get the project done by the end of September.

Schindler explained that the westernmost 250 feet of the bridge between the roundabouts on Olympic Way has the most water intrusion damage because the concrete was poured onsite, which resulted in a very difficult finish.

Workers at the time realized their mistake, Schindler said, and used precast forms for the rest of the bridge.

“Those look a lot better,” he said.

“It’s been a tedious project to get right,” said Hester.

All workers are Pacific Northwest chapter members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

Above: Ken Hester, of Shoreline, packs up his masonry supplies for the day on Tuesday.

A Brief Bridge History

The bridge was completed in 2003 to replace the previous bridge which was structurally damaged in the Nisqually based earthquake on February 28, 2001.

The earthquake speeded up a bridge replacement process that was already underway, as load limits had already been placed on the bridge.

Former City of Olympia Mayor Bob Jacobs was asked about his involvement in the planning for the new bridge in the late 1990s prior to the earthquake.

The previous bridge lasted as long as it did because it had been constructed with extra strength to carry trolley traffic. 

“It was generous of the council to include on the bronze plaques all of the names of council members who participated in the entire, long planning process. It’s a great looking bridge. Although the cost estimates had to be increased several times, our council made detailed decisions on the design of the bridge, including the number of lanes, width of sidewalks, and height of railings.

“Partway into the process, it was decided to expand the project to include the area to the west and call it the Olympia Gateway Project. The roundabouts were a big risk because such structures were rather new at the time and the slopes made them difficult to construct. All in all, it turned out very well,” said Jacobs.

Editor's Note, August 24: Little Hollywood deleted a previously published statement that the Fourth Avenue bridge never had trolley traffic.

Above: Olympians braved the rain to celebrate the grand reopening of the Fourth Avenue Bridge in December, 2003. The bridge serves as a critical east-west transportation link in Olympia. The Nisqually earthquake made the previous bridge unusable, causing over two years of inconvenience for commuters.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Solar Eclipse 2017

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Above: Olympians found spots throughout the city to view the solar eclipse on Monday. When viewing the eclipse at Madison Scenic Park in Olympia’s eastside neighborhood, this little guy took no chances. 

As the eclipse reached totality, the light turned sunset colored, the air became cool, and birds chirped like it was twilight. Neighbors greeted each other and chatted. 

We all learned just a little bit more about astrophysics while looking through homemade viewers made from cereal and cracker boxes.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pet Parade 2017

Above: Russell Soderquist, 3, of Olympia, gets a little help with his ice cream from his pug, Kirby, 9. The Soderquist family won the prize for best family entry, and earned a sweet bicycle that will take Russell a few years to grow into. They won the contest with Russell and Kirby sitting in their “Bathing Beauties” wagon, which was decorated like a shower, complete with shower head and clear curtain.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“Beauties and Beasts” was the theme of the 88th annual Pet Parade as goats, horses, bunnies, cats and dogs, King Kong, and even Sasquatch strolled through downtown Olympia on Saturday morning

All ended up in Sylvester Park with participation ribbons and ice cream for kids 16 years of age and under.

The event was sponsored by The Olympian newspaper and a wide range of local businesses. Donated prizes and gift certificates were awarded for a variety of categories.

Above:  This sweetheart of a Beast held onto his rose throughout the whole parade.

Above: Rusty, 3, an Australian Shepherd/English Springer mix, was a happy pollinator for the day as his owner, Malla Hayak, of Shelton, gives him a treat. Hayak's mother, Barbara, brought Darla, her four year old German Shepherd, and won $20 for their pirate costumes in the large dog category. “This was so much fun! I’m going to bring my nieces and nephews next year!” said Hayak, who won a $25 gift certificate. This was her first Pet Parade.

Above: Dressed like a skunk, Porter, 4, takes the pug breed to a whole new level.

Above: This family went all out with their float of the Capitol Building, King Kong, and a dog dressed as Faye Raye.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sick Tricks, Kicks, and the Footbag Family

Above: Taking a break during warm ups, footbagger Larry Workman, left, of North Bend, Oregon, compliments Taishi Ishida of Japan on his routine earlier in the week at the 38th Annual World Footbag Championships held in Portland, Oregon last week. Workman's daughter has T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and recently underwent a stem cell transplant. She is currently facing serious complications.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“It's like You Tube, only he's here!” exclaimed the announcer when he introduced Nick ‘Mr. Spaghetti’ Landes, who demonstrated sick tricks and kicks at the 38th Annual World Footbag Championships held in Portland at the Oregon Convention Center last week.

If you didn’t know there was such a thing, you’re not alone, but maybe you’ve gathered in a circle with a group of friends on your college campus or at a local park, kicking a little beanbag around, trying to keep it up in the air as long as possible without using your hands. Maybe you even thought you were pretty good at it.

Above: A group of friends play Hacky Sack at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the 1980s. Photo by Janine Thome (Gates)/Little Hollywood Photography

While there has been footbag use documented since ancient times, the little bag as we know it today was created in Oregon City, Oregon by two friends, Mike Marshall and John Stalberger, in 1972.

Marshall was kicking around a homemade beanbag while Stalberger was recovering from knee surgery. Stalberger wanted a fun way to exercise his knee. They improved their little bag, and…the rest is history. 

The name, patented and marketed under the brand Hacky Sack, came from their original term for the game, “Hack-the-Sack.” Stalberger says they used to say, Let's go hack-the-sack, when they wanted to play.

When Marshall died three years later of a heart attack at the age of 28, Stalberger started The National Hacky Sack Association and began organizing workshops to teach footbag in schools.

Stalberger later sold the rights for the Hacky Sack footbag and now, millions play the sport around the world.

There’s a World-Wide Footbag Foundation, an International Footbag Players’ Association (IFPA), and even a Footbag Hall of Fame Historical Society.

Now a Vancouver, Washington based consultant and coach for small companies and real estate agent, Stalberger stays involved with the sport and continues to honor his friend each year by awarding a deserving person the Mike Marshall Footbag trophy. 

This year, the trophy went to World Footbag Championship event director Ethan “Red” Husted.

Above: John Stalberger gives an honorary award every year at the World Championship tournament in memory of his friend Mike Marshall. 

Above: The Open Doubles Net Semi Finals at the World Footbag Championships in Portland on Saturday. In blue,Wiktor Debski of Poland and Luc Legeau of Canada play against Walt Houston and Ben Alston of Memphis Footworks from Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis Footworks won, making it to the finals for the first time.

The World Footbag Championships have been hosted by 12 different countries in the past 17 years, and was last held in Portland in 1997.

Last week, 135 athletes competed from several countries around the world in various events including routines for singles, doubles, women’s, freestyle, intermediate, and open categories.

The enthusiasm and camaraderie is infectious as the family friendly crowd responds to the athlete’s moves, choreographed to music. Judges score the performance based on artistic merit and technical skills. If the footbag gets dropped to the floor, the crowd is supportive and the routine continues.

Above: Pawel Nowak of Poland, center, won first place, with seven time world footbag champion Vasek Klouda of the Czech Republic, right, coming in second, and Taishi Ishida, left, coming in third for the Open Singles Routine at the 38th World Footbag Championships in Portland last week.

But all the fun and competition becomes secondary when life is kicking you in the gut.

Wearing an Oregon Ducks t-shirt, Larry Workman, of North Bend, Oregon, was taking a break from practicing his moves when he was randomly approached by Little Hollywood to answer a few questions about the sport.

Workman graciously introduced himself, and said he has been playing footbag for eight years, but did not perform well earlier in the week because his mind was elsewhere.

His 21 year old daughter, Mayleigh, has T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and recently underwent a stem cell transplant. She is currently on a ventilator at a Portland area hospital in very serious condition. 

It has been a difficult journey.

The footbag championships coincided with his daughter's worsening condition, but provided Larry and his wife, Camille, brief respite. To help spread the word about blood cancers, the Workman's staffed an information table for Be the Match, a nonprofit marrow donor registry.

Be the Match targets healthy potential donors between the ages of 18-44, and they were successful in signing up four potential donors in Mayleigh’s honor.

Their feelings were raw, but they wanted to share their story with their footbag family.

A year ago, after experiencing symptoms she and her family didn’t understand for three months, Mayleigh was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She received a stem cell transplant 19 days ago, but is now facing serious complications.

The Workman's have learned a lot of medical jargon in a short amount of time, and have been writing a blog to provide updates on Mayleigh's condition and share their knowledge with family and friends.

“We really need her white counts to come in so her body can begin healing. Today they doubled her fillgrastim shots that stimulate the stem cells. She's been getting this since day 7 and so far her counts haven't budged. It was her first double dose so hopefully this will help to kick start those cells to go to work. They have also found a virus present that for most of us would not be an issue but because she's neutropenic, they will need to keep an eye on it closely.

“We had a huge support system in my mom and my footbag family but my mom had to return home and the footbaggers have all went their separate ways. We are beyond stressed and our minds keep wandering but mostly we want to get that call that her counts are coming in and for that we need a miracle,” the Workman's wrote on Monday.

Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. About 14,000 patients are in need of a transplant nationwide. Seventy percent of patients don’t have a fully matched donor in their family.

Stalberger is emotional about the footbag family.

“It’s all very humbling to me. It’s fantastic. Mike was a free spirited person, and we didn’t know where it would go all those years ago…. I didn’t know anything, and after he died, I didn’t know who to trust…. I’m glad to still be a part of it all. You know, the footbag community is about family.

“….As for Mayleigh, we’re just lifting the family up in prayer and sending them positive energy and love. That’s the one word to describe what this is all about: love.”

Above: Paloma Pujol Mayo of Spain performed a routine to a musical medley which included Jailrock Rock by Elvis Presley. She won first place in the women’s individual routine.

Editor's Note, August 16: Little Hollywood has been informed that Mayleigh passed away the afternoon of August 15. Please see the note in the comment section from her family.

For more information about Be the Match and to receive a swab kit in the mail, go to

When you join the Be the Match registry, it means you are helping to save a life. You complete a confidential registration and consent form and perform a cheek swab. No blood is drawn. Your cheek swab is tested for your tissue type to determine if you are a possible match for a patient in need. If you are called as a potential match, you must be committed to donate to any patient in need, and ready to follow through with further requirements. Adding more members with diverse ethnic backgrounds to the registry increases the variety of tissue types available, helping more patients find the match they need. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Seniors Denied Safe Access to Trail System

Above: Residents of The Firs, an independent retirement facility on Lilly Road in Olympia, have quietly worked for over two years to gain safe access from the edge of the facility’s property to the Chehalis Western trail system. Many of the residents use canes, walkers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters. Negotiations between the City of Olympia and property owners of the facility have stalled.

City Neglected to Obtain Right of Way, Property Owner Denies City Access

Ensign Road Neighborhood Pathway Project Received $162,000

Residents May Have Title II American Disabilities Act Case

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood
A Little Hollywood Land Use Investigation

Residents of The Firs, an independent retirement living facility for seniors at 426 Lilly Road in Olympia, want improved access to a public trail that is so close and yet so far.

For over two years, they have patiently worked with their property management representatives, MBK Senior Living, and the City of Olympia to create safe access to the Chehalis Western trail system trail.

The hazardous connection is from the end of the property’s sidewalk at the end of Ensign Road to a steep, 65 foot dirt path that drops several inches, then dips down into the middle of a drainage ditch, and rises again to meet the trail. Another potential access point is also difficult and blocked by a parking lot curb and a rough lawn.

The Chehalis Western trail system offers 56 miles of paved, uninterrupted trails, allowing access to regional businesses, homes, work, and recreational activities.

On a regular basis, dozens of able-bodied staff and residents, including bicyclists, access the area near The Firs to reach medical offices, the Memorial Clinic, assisted living facilities, St. Peter Hospital, Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health), and a nearby apartment complex.

Many seniors who are disabled cannot negotiate the drop from the sidewalk to the dirt path, like Manuel Gutierrez, who is an amputee and uses a motorized wheelchair. He lives in a nearby apartment complex and drives to the edge of the sidewalk to watch others access the trail.

Brave motorized scooter riders access the trail either by driving to the next accessible entry point near Kaiser Permanente to the north, about one fourth of a mile away, or to an asphalt pathway to the south near an apartment complex, the Olympia Crest Apartments, also about one fourth of a mile away.

The intersection of Lilly Road and Martin Way is the second busiest intersection in Thurston County.

Above: As another resident of The Firs drives by on his motorized scooter, Ken Lewis, a resident of The Firs, stands in the middle of the dirt path that leads from a sidewalk with a several inch drop off to the Chehalis Western trail.

Above: City of Olympia councilmember Clark Gilman, center, met with Sherman Beverly, left, and Freeman Stickney, right, and about 20 other residents of The Firs in June to discuss their request for safe access to the Chehalis Western Trail. 

Beverly, a former resident council president at The Firs, is a professor emeritus of Northeastern Illinois University, and has recently published a book. In June, he shared with Gilman that he is nearing his 90th birthday and encounters difficulty accessing the trail.

Residents Petition City for Access

The city approved $162,000 for the Ensign Road neighborhood pathway in 2016 and has been supportive of the residents’ request for access. 

The city prepared to begin work on the project this summer, however, the property owner, Olympia Propco, LLC, denied the city right-of-way, thus blocking the project.

Clark Gilman was chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory committee when he first heard about the issue. He is now a council member. 

Gilman and Little Hollywood were recently invited to The Firs to take a look at the steep dirt path and hear the concerns of about 20 residents gathered to discuss the issue. 

Freeman Stickney, a former resident council president at The Firs, spent his career in the Air Force and the National Weather Service.

He says a significant number of the 130 residents at The Firs, including more than half a dozen who use power chairs, would like to use the trail for exercise and enjoyment.

In September of 2015, Stickney, along with residents Sherman Beverly, Jr., and Ken Lewis, presented a petition to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, signed by 85 residents asking the Olympia City Council to include their request for access in its neighborhood pathways program to extend the sidewalk in the 2016 budget.

The petition was acknowledged, and forwarded to the city council for their consideration.

“A few of the residents with power chairs have mentioned to me that they would use the Chehalis Western trail to reach businesses on Martin Way and the South Sound Shopping Center. The old railroad grade is level, and much easier and safer to traverse than Lilly Road,” said Stickney.

“The Firs highlights access to the trail in their advertisements. They have even organized trail walks, weather permitting – for those able bodied!” he added.

Gilman said that while it appears the property owner thinks that space is valuable for possible expansion, he doubted that the city would approve one. The drainage ditch causing the dip in the trail is actually a stormwater retention pond, and a wetland the size of about 10 to 15 acres is located directly adjacent the trail. 

During winter months, at least 12 inches of water is in the ditch, making access to the trail difficult for everyone.

“I think it would be good public relations for MBK Senior Living and The Firs to allow the city access. It’s not taking away anything from them. We could provide a nice bench and plaque on it, letting everyone know that they allowed this to happen. Let’s get this done, especially before it starts raining again,” added resident Mike Flothe.

City Realizes Its Own Oversight to Obtain Right of Way

Records indicate that the city has worked hard for two years, making numerous attempts to contact the appropriate representative for Olympia Propco, LLC, which is based in California, and proactively negotiate for the area.

Through the city’s Site Plan Review Committee, city staff reviewed the area and worked out the requirements needed for approval of the trail development and submitted its pathway design to the property owner.

The city is asking Olympia Propco, LLC to dedicate a 60 foot right-of-way for Ensign Road, as required by a development condition of approval that was apparently never completed, and dedicating roughly 18 feet by 50 feet of pathway right-of-way.

The facility was built in 1984.

The city realized its oversight when residents of The Firs made their petition for access. It has offered the owner a relatively small, but undetermined potential land tax reduction and offered to pay Olympia Propco, LLC a nominal fee of $10,000 for 13,897 square feet to expedite the process.

In 2015, the onsite executive director of The Firs’ property management company, MBK Senior Living, wrote a letter to the city supporting its residents, saying, “An ADA compliant trail access would be greatly appreciated and welcomed to our neighborhood and The Firs.”

Residents of The Firs believe they have a strong case with regard to Title II of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers state and local government activities.

Title II requires that state and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities such as public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings.

Lack of access to the trail for those with disabilities covers several of those categories.

A MBK Senior Living representative based in California, Kevin Hanlon, wrote an April 7, 2017 email to city surveyor Ladd Cluff, seemingly extinguishing all hope for the seniors, disabled, and others members of the public from being able to safely access the trail.

“Being a senior community, we are extra cautious and sensitive to anything that could possibly make our property less secure. We’re very concerned a new access trail point might bring in greater activity and create a potentially less safe area. It is our belief at this time, that an access point in this area would not be prudent,” wrote Hanlon.

Cluff responded that that the response was very disappointing.

“The pathway would have a significant positive impact to our community. We will inform the public stakeholders that the pathway project is unable to move forward. Our message will be that the property owners are not willing to grant the public the necessary right-of-way for the pathway. We hope your position changes in the future,” wrote Cluff.

Max Rheinhardt, the new executive director for The Firs, recently addressed residents about the issue and on two occasions, suggested in meetings that the property owner may fence off the area in question for liability reasons.

He had little to say in a brief interview with Little Hollywood, except to say that some residents do not understand the situation.

Ken Lewis, 85, a retired manager of the hospital licensing program under the state department of health, has spearheaded effort for safe access for the past two years.

Lewis is active and regularly walks and bikes the Chehalis Western Trail. His wife is not able to access the trail, and the couple recently decided to move from The Firs to another retirement community that has access to trails.

“Fencing off the area would be horrible, and the worst possible, unintended consequence of our efforts for safe access. I even wrote Olympia Propco, LLC in June about my decision, and I never received a communication back. We gave The Firs notice that we will vacate our apartment with the lack of trail access as the primary reason. They need to know there will be consequences for their failure to resolve this issue,” said Lewis.

Above: Ken Lewis, center, speaks to Councilmember Clark Gilman and residents of The Firs at a meeting in June about the the proposed pathway on Ensign Road.

Ensign Neighborhood Pathway Application Funded

The residents of The Firs are not alone in their desire for access to the trail.

The nearby Olympia Transitional Care and Rehabilitation skilled nursing care facility has over 100 residents and over 130 employees. The facility shares a parking lot with The Firs and the trail is frequently used by its staff and residents throughout the year. 

Its administrator, Ben Jensen, wrote a letter to the city in 2015 in support of The Firs’ resident request for safe access to the trail from Ensign Road.

Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to the residents of The Firs at the time, a neighborhood pathway application to the city had been independently written and submitted in mid-2015 by Keith Edgerton, on behalf of the Woodland Trail Greenway Association.

Edgerton works across the street from The Firs as Providence St. Peter Hospital’s Sustainability Coordinator.

St. Peter Hospital is the largest private employer in Thurston County and has an active commute trip reduction program.

“Creating a safe trail connection would greatly improve all neighborhood business and St. Peter Hospital's ability to encourage staff to use alternate forms of transportation in order to reduce congestion in this area. This pathway would encourage residents (including the elderly) to access the trail for health and wellness benefits,” wrote Edgerton in his application.

“Whether it’s cyclists, persons with disabilities, moms pushing baby strollers or elderly people trying to access the trail, the existing trail connection poses access limitations and safety concerns.

The project received $162,000 in 2016 and the go-ahead from city council. However, the money has been sitting in the Capital Facilities Plan budget, on hold, ever since.

Asked what could happen to this funding, Michelle Swanson, city staff for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, says there are no other Neighborhood Pathways projects scheduled.

“This gives us the flexibility to reserve the funding for the Ensign Pathway for a while, in case the property owners decide to come back to the negotiating table. Were there another project in the pipeline, we probably would have moved on from building that project. 

“As we told them, we do hope they’ll come back to the table. We believe in the value of this project,” she said.

Above: John Gessner has lived at The Firs for about two and a half years. He uses a motorized scooter and must go out of his way to use alternative access points to the trail, either behind Kaiser Permanente or to the south, near Olympia Crest Apartments, along Lilly Road. He says there are five or six residents with scooters who would like to use the trail, but don't, due to the lack of safe access.

Last month, Gessner took a spill off of his scooter at the intersection of Lilly and Ensign Road. Luckily, several passersby immediately jumped out of their cars to assist him and right his scooter. He was shook up and slightly injured. Gessner wants trail access closest to the facility so he doesn’t have to use the streets to access services. I was lucky. My scooter was laying on top of me. I wouldn't have been able to get it off of me if it hadn't been for those folks.