Smugglers Cove Trailhead Opens at Trillium Community Forest
New Access Features Parking Area Large Enough for Horse Trailers and School Buses
You only need to take a few steps from the new trailhead at Trillium Community Forest to feel like you’re a world apart.
You’ll immediately get the sense of stillness that comes from an intimate forest experience. It’s part of the wonderment that hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders have been enjoying since the Smugglers Cove Trailhead opened in May.
The new trailhead, on Smugglers Cove Road, a mile south of South Whidbey State Park, is the product of a partnership between the Land Trust and Island County. It features a spacious gravel parking lot with ample room for horse trailers and school buses and easier access for all trail users seeking a deep woods setting.
Trillium Community Forest is one of the Land Trust’s most celebrated success stories. In 2010, during the height of the recession, an incredible $4 million was raised from more than 1,500 donors in only seven months to protect the largest contiguous forest in private ownership on Whidbey Island.
The effort protected 654 acres of forest, eliminating the possibility of dense development atop a ridge north of Freeland. Another 19 acres were added later, securing an important stretch of forested trail.
To provide even more public access and expand the protected area, we teamed up with Island County in 2012 to apply for grants on the County’s behalf to fund additional land acquisitions. After several years of hard work, an additional 48 acres of forest was protected with the purchase of two properties. One includes the new parking area off Smugglers Cove Road. The other will feature a parking area connected to a level ADA-accessible trail loop that will open by December on Bounty Loop Road.
“I really appreciate the partnership between the County and the Land Trust to provide this vital access for our community,” Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said. “I’m also looking forward to the completion of the ADA access coming at Bounty Loop as the final step — opening Trillium Community Forest to all users.”
The new Smugglers Cove Trailhead is “convenient and easy and nice and a good place to park a horse trailer,” said Wendy Fjelsted, a horse owner from Freeland. That wasn’t possible at the original trailhead on Highway 525.
The new trailhead also has become the preferred option for those wanting to venture directly into a canopy of trees and embark on a soft earth trail that climbs gradually through the forest.
Our land steward, Jessica Larson, thinks people will enjoy the new entrance “because they don’t have to walk along the paved road like they do at the Highway 525 Trailhead. They can go straight from the parking lot into a natural forest setting.”
Nancy Ritzenthaler, a nearby resident, agreed. “I just hiked the new Smugglers Cove trail up to the Main Line trail,” Ritzenthaler said. “Beautiful woods and a very nice trail. Looking forward to taking my mountain bike on it too. I’m so excited to have this new access point to this amazing protected land!”
Special thanks goes to Island County, especially its Public Works Department, for building the parking lot. The volunteers who built the new trail also deserve much praise. They put in nearly 260 hours, the equivalent of 31 individual work days, to carve the new path through the forest.
Work is underway on the third access point into the forest at the Bounty Loop Trailhead. This access, located on the northwest corner of Bounty Loop Road, off Mutiny Bay Road, will have multiple handicapped accessible parking spaces and will be an ideal place for those with physical challenges or parents with small children to enjoy short, level hikes.
In addition to its many recreational opportunities, Trillium Community Forest provides an important home for wildlife. Since 2010, 62 bird species have been reported by volunteers from Whidbey Audubon Society.
On a recent June day, several juvenile red-legged frogs, including the one featured in the circular photo, were seen hopping through the tall damp grass alongside the new Smugglers Cove trail. In a sunnier location on another trail, a northern alligator lizard scurried for cover not far from a slithering garter snake. It’s no wonder the frogs were antsy.