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Originally published Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 7:02 PM

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Lots to celebrate on long Centennial Trail

Snohomish County's long, sinuous Centennial Trail traces the original railroad right-of-way built north of Snohomish in 1889 by the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad (S.L. & E.).

Special to The Seattle Times

Location: Snohomish to Lake Stevens to Arlington to Bryant.

Length: Currently 23 miles.

Level of difficulty: Level-to-moderate, paved, multiuse trail flanked by a dirt trail for horse riding.

Setting: Make a New Year's exercise pact with a buddy to hike this trail in stages this winter (stash a car at another trailhead for a one-way trip) when snow keeps you out of the mountains and muck discourages walks on other lowland trails. The long, sinuous trail is an impressive feat, tracing the original railroad right-of-way built north of Snohomish in 1889 by the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad (S.L. & E.). The portion of the line between Snohomish and Arlington was purchased from S.L.&E. in 1892 by Northern Pacific and later sold in 1970 to Burlington Northern. After rail activity ceased, development began on the trail 100 years after the line was built, during the state's centennial year of 1989 — hence the trail's name.

The trail passes through a wide variety of settings — through towns, across meadows, over creeks and within forests. In several places, the trail slips beneath busy highways (via underpasses) and it also offers a conservation corridor that protects natural and cultural resources. There's an interpretive display on the Native American and salmon history of the area near Arlington at the Armar Road trailhead. At the Machias trailhead (southeast of Lake Stevens), you can see a replica of a railroad depot built in the late 1890s that served this former rail line.

Highlights: A new trail segment north of Arlington opened in September, crossing the old railroad bridge over the Stillaguamish River and ending at the little unincorporated community of Bryant, near Highway 532. Further extensions to the trail are underway (roughly paralleling Highway 9; see map on website), possibly reaching the Skagit County border in 2011. There's a 1.5-mile gap in the trail south of Arlington, which Snohomish County hopes also to complete this coming year.

Facilities: Portable toilets at trailhead parking lots.

Restrictions: Leash and scoop laws in effect. This accessible trail is used by hikers, cyclists, skaters and equestrians.

Directions: The trail currently has nine official trailheads in or near Snohomish, Lake Stevens and Arlington. To reach the Armar Road trailhead, from Interstate 5 take Exit 206 (Highway 531/172nd Street Northeast) and head east. Turn right on 67th Avenue Northeast/Armar Road. After passing 152nd Street Northeast, watch for the park sign and turn left on Wade Road. To find the other trailheads, see the park website.

For more information: 425-388-6600 or

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a geologist by training, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She's currently a travel guidebook editor at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her:

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