Old Military Road Trail

A trail at English Camp near the original Old Military Road – Tim Dustrude photo

On June 13, a group of San Juan Islanders met with the Board of San Juan Island Park and Recreation District (Island Rec) seeking to be recognized as an official committee of Island Rec to explore the feasibility of creating a new trail connecting the two camps of San Juan Island National Historical Park – English Camp and American Camp. The Island Rec Board approved and The Old Military Road Trail Committee was born.

This Old Military Road Trail would honor the historic road used by Cowichan First Nation peoples, followed by the Hudson Bay Company in the 1850s, and later as a link between posts during the joint military occupation of the island by British and American forces.

While the goal of this project is to follow the historic route when possible, parts of the modern-day trail will likely deviate from the original road for a couple of reasons:

  • First, over the course of its lifetime, the actual route of the Old Military Road changed a number of times due to various social, political and economic forces. As such there really is no one correct route.
  • Second, any route across the island will encounter multiple jurisdictions of private and public lands, so there will need to be a range of options for a re-created route of the Old Military Road.

The Committee is working to design a collaborative public planning process and foster solid community participation to develop a range of options across these multiple jurisdictions.

A segment of the original Old Military Road crossed the current location of Zylstra Lake – Tim Dustrude photo

The Committee anticipates a number of benefits to the San Juan Island community from the development and implementation of this trail:

  • First, it will provide a safe, recreational corridor across San Juan Island for pedestrians, bicycles and possibly equestrian use on some sections, expanding access to outdoor recreation and promoting healthy lifestyles and improved safety for walkers, cyclists, hikers, and joggers by providing an off-road route across San Juan Island.
  • This trail will celebrate local history and enhance the enjoyment and mission of the San Juan Island National Historical Park and the San Juan Historical Society.
  • It will engage our youth by providing a novel connection to the natural world. It will provide a new venue for educational field trips, community recreational events, and stewardship sites for the local youth conservation corps.
  • This endeavor will continue to support the current cooperation between local land conservation groups who already work in a coordinated fashion to protect wildlife habitat, to reestablish native flora, to eradicate invasive species, to preserve natural wetlands, and to conserve the natural beauty and unique character of the Island.
  • This “backbone” trail will complement the main goal of the San Juan Island Trails plan of 2006, developed with technical assistance from the National Park Service: to create a network of interconnected trails to major destinations on San Juan Island.
  • Finally, the Old Military Road Trail project will benefit the National Park Service by celebrating history, by linking two geographically separate units of the San Juan Island National Historical Park, and by highlighting 21st century Park priorities.

The Committee is growing in number but is currently comprised of Dave Zeretzke, Todd Kaden, Robin Donnelly, Boyd Pratt, Mike Vouri, Louise Dustrude, Tim Dustrude, Jeff Gillette and Pam Gillette.

Organizations that have submitted letters of support include: Island Rec, the National Park Service, San Juan Preservation Trust, San Juan County Land Bank, Roche Harbor Resort, County Councilman Bill Watson and Saltchuk Properties.

The first order of business is to apply for a grant from the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) Program of the National Park Service for technical assistance in 2020 to aid with development of a feasibility study and strategic plan to develop a realistic route for this 12 to 17 mile, multi-use trail.

If accepted, the RTCA Program will help to foster solid community participation and to cement support for the resultant strategic plan from partner agencies, local businesses, and individuals.

The strategic plan will set forth the first phase of major steps to gain resources, construct, and open a segment of the new trail by 2022 in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Kaiser Wilhelm I’s famous arbitration decision granting San Juan Island to the United States.

Posted on July 11, 2019 at 5:05 pm by

Categories: Community, Fitness, Health & Wellness, Recreation


  1. I first heard about the Old Military Road from my uncle Einar Nielsen, County Commissioner in the late 70’s, he had the same idea for a cross island trail! I’m happy to see the revival of this concept!

    Comment by Darcie Nielsen on July 12, 2019 at 9:17 am
  2. This is very exciting! I can imagine our great-great grandfather, Robert Firth, used this road from his Belle Vue Sheep Farm (at present day American Camp). I always thought of it as The Old Peace Road since the “war” part of the Pig War never happened. Potlucks and parties between the two sides, instead of fighting — what a concept! This Old Military Road project is a wonderful idea!

    Comment by Shaun Hubbard on July 14, 2019 at 8:21 am
  3. What a great idea! This is long overdue. Having bicycles, pedestrians, dog walkers off the county roads would be a huge improvement. Just saw an aid car with a downed bicyclist this past weekend along Bailer Hill Rd. This will help improve the safety on our island. Let’s make it happen!

    Comment by Jennifer Evans on July 14, 2019 at 7:49 pm

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