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New Mailbox Peak trail delivers a welcome message

By Gloria Vazquez
SnoValley Star

Gloria-SnoValleyStarCarl Heine, I imagine, would be proud.

The Seattle postman was also serving as the director of Valley Camp in the 1960s when he began challenging youths to climb the mountain in the “backyard” of the Lutheran Camp Facility. Heine placed a mailbox at the summit and tucked a notebook into the box for the youths to sign when they reached the top.

The summit became known as Mailbox Peak.

Each year, thousands of hikers deliver their own notes or mementos to the famous mailbox.

The original mailbox has been replaced many times over the years, however, the mountain’s reputation of being a thigh-burning, endurance-testing climb remained. The steep grade and at times sketchy trail has long posed challenges for serious hikers, as well as for search and rescue teams that have often been called out to locate lost or injured climbers.

Outdoor groups got the message.

The trail, which wound around tree roots, mudslides and was difficult to follow, needed a face lift.

The process required four years and more than 12,000 hours of volunteer labor. The project was spearheaded by the efforts and partnerships of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington Trails Association and EarthCorps.

The result: a safer and more accessible route to the mailbox.

The cost was more than $500,000, much of it paid for by federal grants.

My daughter, Rebekah Pickering, and I volunteered for trail work Sept. 27 and joined the enthusiastic group that gathered for the 8:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Sept. 27 was also National Public Lands Day and officials and volunteers from Mountains to Sound, DNR, REI and a lot of local hikers were on hand to work and celebrate at the new trailhead parking lot near the Middle Fork Road.

“This iconic trail is a shining example of what can be accomplished through the works of many different individuals and entities all working together,” Peter Goldmark, the Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, said.

The new trail is well laid-out.

Mark Stenger, former trail program manager for Mountains to Sound, had spent considerable time on the mountain, mapping out an ideal trail that eliminates some pitfalls of the original boot track. Over the years, erosion and increased use had left the trail potentially hazardous for hikers.

The original route was a steep, close the 3-mile trek with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet. It could be brutal, particularly if hikers weren’t prepared. The trail was not only difficult to climb, it was hard to follow, which is why people got lost.

The newly created trail climbs 3,800 feet in approximately 4.7 miles. The grade is significantly gentler. The wider, less steep trail allows for more hikers to access the trail, as well as providing less impact to the knees coming down.

The new trailhead provides parking for approximately 50 cars and there are bathroom facilities as well.

Let’s hope this new and improved trail will take some of the boot traffic off Mount Si and allow hikers who were previously intimidated by the climb, to leave their notes in the mailbox as well.

Goldmark summed it up well.

“This is the final segment of a much-loved trail for mountain climbers and hikers alike,” he said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Whether you’re preparing for Mount Rainier or just enjoying a stroll through a beautiful area, the new trail offers something for everyone.”

Note:

The new trail is only open on weekends through the end of October, due to construction on Middle Fork Road.

If you go:

Driving directions:

Drive east on I-90. Take exit 34. Turn left onto 468th Street. Turn right onto Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road (Forest Road 56). Continue on Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road until the end of the pavement.

The new parking area is on the right, up a hill. The trail and parking area is clearly marked.

A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Learn more about the project at mtsgreenway.org/our-work/middle-fork-snoqualmie-river.

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