Volunteer couple, friends build trail near Stevens Pass

STEVENS PASS -- Dennis and Sandy Evans are so dedicated to the construction of the Iron Goat Trail near Stevens Pass, they even got married on the hiking trail back in 1995.

The Marysville couple, now in their late 60s, have spent the past 20 years volunteering their "free" time each summer to help build and maintain the popular 10-mile trail in the Mount Baker- Snoqualmie National Forest.

In January, Dennis Evans was named the U.S. Forest Service's top trail volunteer in all of Washington and Oregon, an honor that recognized his almost 5,000 hours of donated work, much of it as the chief trail crew leader.

Since his retirement as an electrical engineer at the Bremerton shipyards, Evans has spent at least two days a week for five months out of each year working on the Iron Goat Trail.

In the winter, he catches up on grant applications to help fund the trail project, work party scheduling and the paperwork he keeps as project coordinator under the auspices of the Volunteers for Outdoor Washington and the Forest Service.

Beginning in 1990, volunteers transformed the old, abandoned Great Northern railway bed into a scenic interpretive trail enjoyed each year by about 10,000 people, including local families, tourists traveling on Highway 2 and railroad fans from around the country.

The Iron Goat Trail, much of it wheelchair-accessible, stretches from near Martin Creek up to the infamous Wellington town site, where in 1910 an avalanche killed about 100 people stuck in a passenger train.

This summer, the Evanses and other volunteers are working on an extension of the Iron Goat, blazing a new trail that ventures over Martin Creek to the Horseshoe Railroad Tunnel and a connection with Kelley Creek Trail. They hope to complete about a half-mile of trail by mid-October.

The new leg takes hikers up and down both sides of a valley that once was spanned by a many-stories-tall railroad trestle. The moss-covered, century-old cement footings of the bridge now sit like monuments along the trail.

Dennis Evans grew up in Spokane and did what he calls "car camping" with his family when he was a boy. As an adult, a desire to spend more time in the outdoors got him interested in the work on the Iron Goat Trail, and that's where he and his wife, Sandy, a nurse, met in 1992.

The trail features Evans' carpentry handiwork in the form of finely crafted steps, elevated walkways and craftsmanlike small bridges. He has taken classes in trail design, construction and specifications for Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility.

Tom Davis, 49, is the trails specialist for the Skykomish Ranger District and scouted out this new leg of trail. Davis has worked with Evans on the Iron Goat for 20 years.

"Dennis has been a key person, a steady force, on this project," Davis said. "It's hard to imagine anyone more dedicated than Dennis Evans. Rain or shine, he drives up from Marysville on his own nickel so that everybody can enjoy the forest."