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South Trail completed at ever-evolving Dugualla State Park

Dugualla State Park is a gem of the state parks system.

Its compact network of trails continues to evolve as members of the Skagit-Whatcom-Island Trail Maintaining Organization and Deception Pass State Park Manager Jack Hartt put their skills to use in creating new routes.

And new tread awaits those willing to brave the wind and rain at the area’s newest trails, which transform dead-end routes into loops.

Rand Nilson of Camano Island was one of the SWITMO volunteers who helped add the finishing touches to the newly constructed South Trail. Though he had worked on previous projects in Deception Pass State Park, this was his first in Dugualla State Park.

“It’s a great place,” said Nilson. “And this is a great trail. It really moved right along. It’s nice to have been here when it all got started and then see it completed.”

Dead-end trails — the mainstays of the park — are slowly being transformed into more hiker-friendly loops.

SWITMO’s latest endeavor took the better part of the winter to complete.

The South Trail connects with the Beach Trail at the “Big Tree.” A quick descent from the “Big Tree” leads to the beach and the salty waters of the sea. Plan to arrive during low tide when beachcombing will be at its best.

The South Trail is longer and its scenery is worth the extra effort as it winds through vast groves of alder and low-lying marshes. During the growing season, nettles will certainly nip at hikers’ legs as they trek along the path. When combined with the North Trail, it makes for a lengthy — albeit scenic — loop.

Hikers will admit there is nothing like virgin trail.

Soft, almost to the point of spongy and with the rich color of newly-tilled soiled, it won't be long before boot soles compact the new trail’s surface to the more trail-like hardpan.

Gene Joy of Mount Vernon plotted the trail’s official length. While he hiked the South Trail’s length, his measuring wheel bounced along the route. The odometer read 2,953 feet — or just over a half-mile — by the end.

“It feels really good to see the trail completed,” said Joy. “It’s been a lot of work. But it is definitely worth it. It’s really quite a feat to put a trail through here.”

While the trail is new, hikers will be able to enjoy a surface that is friendly on the joints as they make their way through swaths of green, walking through stands of old-growth timber. Look closely for trees barring the scars of lightning strikes.

Hikers will pass thousands of board feet worth of red cedar as numerous trees have toppled to the ground under the weight of Mother Nature’s continued onslaught.

Sword ferns the size of dinner tables carpet the understory. The forest of ferns soon gives way and disappears as the canopy thickens with old growth and the understory becomes a blanket of trees and limbs.

“It’s good to see this trail completed,” said SWITMO volunteer Doug Shepherd. “We wanted to make it as wiggly as possible so it would be fun to hike. Heck, we even dug up, transported and replanted ferns. Those things were huge.”

To extend the loop further, pick up the North Trail which was connected to the Beach Trail last year. Once again, the “Big Tree” is the linchpin.

“This is an excellent trail,” said Joy. “It’s a really good addition to this trail system. It’s going to be enjoyed by a lot of folks.”

To get to Dugualla State Park, off Highway 20 north of Oak Harbor take Sleeper Road, which is south of the Dugualla Flats area. Follow Sleeper Road three miles east until it ends at a county turnaround with a gate. On the other side of the gate sits Dugualla State Park.

• Reporter Vince Richardson: 360-416-2181, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), Twitter: @Sports_SVH, Facebook.com/vin cereporters.