Welcome to our first in a series of American Trail Running Association “Trail Town” articles! Every month we’re going to feature an article about a great small city for trail running. This month we’re headed up to the great Pacific Northwest to a small community just a ferry ride from Seattle.
Bainbridge Island, WA – is located in Kitsap County, Washington, and the namesake of the island in Puget Sound on which the city is situated. The population is approximately 24,000, making Bainbridge Island the second largest city in the County. The island itself is approximately 10 miles long and 5 miles wide.
A great trail town has to start with a great trail network. Trails must be well marked with maps available online with a bonus to towns with a variety of trails of distance and type. With approximately 33 miles of trails in an area the size of Manhattan (New York City), Bainbridge Island’s goal according to Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District Senior Parks Manager David Harry, “To be able to move around the island off road. This serves a two-fold purpose, it gets people out recreating and provides additional transportation corridors.” All of the trails are non-motorized and allow equestrians, mountain bikes, foot traffic, and leashed pets unless otherwise noted on trail signage.
In the coming years, more trails will be added to the system with a plan to connect to the Olympic Sound Trail. Presently, the three biggest areas are Grand Forest, Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve, and Manzanita Park. Read more in the Island’s Vision Plan for the trails. Trails vary from single-track terrain through forests, to open areas with hard-packed dirt and gravel paths. There are ascents and descents, switchbacks, foot bridges to cross, and occasional rocks and roots. Trails are well-signed and there are also great trail maps to carry along on your runs.
Parking & Transit
Trails must have adequate, dedicated, and safe parking and on Bainbridge Island, there is close-in parking adjacent to most trailheads, as well as nearby on-street parking. There is limited public transit on Bainbridge Island so plan to drive or ride a bike.
When trail networks are actively managed by local community organizations, there is a perfect balance of conservation and recreation. The Island’s Parks department manages the trail system and has an active community dedicated to the trails. “We have a local trails advisory committee which hosts monthly work parties,” says David Harry “There is also support from the city’s Non-Motorized Transportation Advisory Committee.”
Bainbridge Island is a very unique spot, according to Mickey Molnaire, director of marketing and tourism, Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce. “The entire island is the city. Winslow is the urban, or main commercial area located near the ferry terminal and there are three other commercial centers. Lynwood Center located on the south end near Fort Ward, Island Center on the west and Rolling Bay on the east side.” The Island is home to the world-renowned Bloedel Reserve, a public garden six days a week. “The 170 acres is a combination of some landscaped areas and wild forest,” says Molnaire. “It is similar to an arboretum and is well-known in gardening circles.”
All great trail towns should have at least one coffee shop and the Island has several. The oldest is Pegasus Coffee located on the waterfront in a building dating back to the 1900s. There are two additional coffee shops on Main Street – Blackbird Bakery and Bainbridge Bakers. “There is also a really good Espresso Bar at the Town and Country Market, a Starbucks in the Safeway, and another in a shopping center. We call the Island, ‘Coffee Central,’” says Molnaire.
A great trail town must have at least one location to enjoy a selection of local craft beers.
Bainbridge Island has one brewery – Bainbridge Brewing Company, and another in the works. There is also an organic distillery, Bainbridge Organic Distillers which produces vodka, whisky and gin. At an international competition in London in 2014, the Island’s Bainbridge Legacy Vodka ranked best among the nearly 1000 types of vodka from 24 countries. There are seven wineries on the island – two that grow grapes on the Island.
A great trail town must have a variety of locations to grab a bite to eat, Bainbridge Island has an abundance of choices for all palates. “There are about 50 establishments where food can be purchased,” says Molnaire. “From candy stores to high-end restaurants and medium-sized bistros in between, it’s pretty hard to find a bad meal in Bainbridge.” Molnaire highlights many options for dessert lovers with frozen yogurt, gelato, and the famous MORA Iced Creamery which has some 70 flavors in its portfolio.
No great trail town is complete without an Local Running Shop (LRS) with inside knowledge of the local trails, coffee, beer, and food. The Runner’s Edge, located in Island Village, would be the place to stop and talk trails and running while in town. The local Chamber of Commerce is a great spot to pick up brochures and learn more about the Island.
Trail Sharing & Cooperation
Bainbridge Island encourages harmonious multi-use by a variety of non-motorized users of the trails as evidenced by its active parks department and affiliated volunteer groups.
Some locals love the opportunity to race on the network they train on and it is fortunate that a race on the Bainbridge Island trails is coming up next month. On May 7, enjoy the Trillium Trail 10k.
When Molnaire was asked about a memory to leave the island with, she said, “For most people, the ferry ride is the most iconic. In fact, the Ferries are the top tourist attraction in the state.” With that being said, the ferry ride to Bainbridge Island is the most convenient and shortest route from downtown Seattle. From Bainbridge Island, there is access to the Olympic Peninsula and even more trails and outdoor fun.