Trails have been a dream of Dr. Ernie Bayâ€™s for over 70 years.
As a teenager, he grew up in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York and spent his summers with a friend exploring the marshes and backwaters of the Mohawk River.
â€œBeing a naturalist at heart, I longed to explore the rural countryside beyond the fenced meadows and forestlands posted with no-trespassing signs,â€ said Bay.
With the Riverwalk Trail in Puyallup, the Foothills Trail and the Sumner Link Trail, that dream is in the process of being realized. Two to three hundred people a day use the Riverwalk Trail, according to Bay.
However, Bay isnâ€™t finished yet.
Since the early 1980s, his single focus has been the trail system. â€œIt was in my blood,â€ he said.
In 1986, he linked up with Dr. Bob Kastama, and plans began to come together.
Bay said that in 1987, the City of Puyallup published a conceptual plan for a Riverfront Trail with the aid of a $10,000 grant from the state Department of Ecology, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The trail is in two sections. One runs 2.5 miles from 18th Street Northwest at River Road to Veterans Park at Ninth Avenue and Fifth Street Northeast at the Milwaukee Avenue Bridge. The other begins beneath State Route 512 and continues 2.6 miles to Stortiniâ€™s Restaurant and beneath the Burlington Northern Puyallup/Sumner Bridge.
The Puyallup Riverwalk will eventually extend to Tacoma and connect with the popular Foothills Trail that runs through the Orting Valley as part of a regional network.
â€œEveryoneâ€™s goal is for people to go from the west side of Puyallup to Buckley without stopping,â€ said Bay.
One of the groups using the trail system is the Daffodil Valley Volkssport Association. John Warhol, the president of the association, said there are 76 members in the club.
The Warhols are members of Friends of the Riverwalk and meet with them every Monday at 9 a.m. at Mrs. Turnerâ€™s Restaurant in Puyallup, after which they take a long walk on the trail.
â€œOur goal is fitness. The national (volkssport) motto is â€˜fun, fitness and friendship,â€™â€ said Carolyn Warhol, who has been walking with a group for over 30 years.
â€œI enjoy being outside, exercising and seeing new places,â€ said Carol. She and her husband met on the trail and have been married 19 years.
In 2015, the Daffodil Valley Volkssport Association members put 867 walkers on the Puyallup Riverwalk Trail for a volksmarch, with another 159 members walking a route through the downtown area.
The Warhols are committed to walking the volksmarches. â€œThe goal of a true volksmarcher is to try to do one in all 50 states. We have done 44 so far,â€ Carol said.
After Bay organized the courtesy patrol for the Riverwalk Trail, he met Dixie and Clay Gatchel on the trail. His bright-yellow jacket and friendly demeanor hooked them right away, and they joined the courtesy patrol soon thereafter.
Sarah Harris, parks and recreation director for Puyallup, canâ€™t say enough about working with the Friends of the Riverwalk.
â€œThey are always doing projects along the trail to enhance it. They clean up, do plantings and are in constant contact with us to let us know if there are any issues. They are so supportive of the trail system and always there to advocate for us. I love working with those guys,â€ Harris said.
Bay said his work on the trail system has been very rewarding.
â€œI have never been involved in any project where Iâ€™ve received so much appreciation,â€ he said.
â€œErnie is the focal point in this, and that is why we call him â€˜Mr. Trail,â€™â€ she said.
Joan Cronk, who wrote this article, is a freelance writer.