An Account of the Opening of the Mulkey Ridge Forest Trail:
From the metal file cabinet Michael takes out sheet after sheet of paper from the weathered manila folder, delicate reminders of decades of correspondence and of all of the people who worked to make the Mulkey Ridge Trail possible. There are notes scrawled on miniature notepads, holiday cards from trail enthusiasts, and finally copies of emails dating back to a time before Gmail. Most of these papers precede either of our tenure at Greenbelt. We lightly lift up each of the yellowed documents, understanding the weight that they carry. I try to decipher the various penmanship and authors, mapping out the conversations over time.
There’s an early letter from the woman who owned the Mulkey Forest property for decades, written from her home in California. I pull out another letter written by Margaret Martin (in sublime penmanship I might add – it is the school teacher in her, I later learn) with an impassioned message about the need for this trail connection. There are notes inscribed by Greenbelt’s founder, Charles Ross, about the property’s forests and possible trail routes.
This past Saturday I stood atop Fitton Green and took in the scene as we cut the ribbon on the new Mulkey Ridge Trail. Over a hundred friends and trail lovers lounged on the hillside in the September sun, listening to those whose work made the trail a reality. The crowd collectively chuckled as Andrew Martin talked about the difference between being stubborn and bull-headed, and groaned with sympathetic understanding as the trail coordinator spoke of volunteers surrounded by poison oak. And soon we were all standing, waiting for the ceremonial photo of the ribbon cutting, before breaking into applause as we giddily took our first steps onto the new trail.
As a ‘sweeper’ of a trail walk you are responsible for matching stride with those less interested in winning than in the view around them. On Saturday this turned out to be five children, a mixture of old and new friends. One carried a plastic gallon bag designed for picking up forest treasures, a pebble here, a pine cone there. Two girls found matching walking sticks and sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ to the moss-laden trees. We tromped merrily on, these kids and I, excited to be together and on a trail on the crisp fall afternoon.
Eventually we emerged from the dense canopy into the sunlit pastures of Bald Hill Farm. A mandolin and guitar serenaded the line of hikers down to a farmhouse where we sat on the porch, snacking and laughing, legs happy but tired from the 2 mile trek. Adults outnumbered the children under three apple trees in the front yard, taste-testing until it was determined that the green apples were indeed the best of the lot.
The shuttle buses arrived to take everyone off, back to their cars and their Saturdays of home improvements and grocery shopping. Alongside staff I dawdled on the porch, not yet ready to say goodbye to the day. As I sat with the sound of Mulkey Creek trickling beside me, I couldn’t help but think back to all of the handwritten letters back at the office. I thought of all of the people who toiled over the planning and design of the trail, and I thought about the countless people who will enjoy it today, tomorrow, and forever.
Among the multitude of letters in that manila folder was one written by Charlie Ross, to whom we all owe so much. He writes that “a trail could wind through this property on the upper reaches and be a lasting monument for Corvallis. We will be leaving a connection for our successors, atop a vista spanning the Valley. This is the Greenbelt vision, and we will be there someday.” Charlie penned these words 22 years ago, and on Saturday I, alongside elders, children, parents, bicyclists, and trail runners … saw this dream come true.