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Kitsap Peninsula Water Trail gets National Parks designation

The Kitsap Peninsula Water Trail — a network of 79 locations where paddlers can launch vessels, take breaks or camp — has been designated a national water trail by the National Park Service.

Kitsap’s 371-mile route joins 15 other national water trails that range from routes on the Mississippi River to island loops in the Great Lakes. Kitsap’s trail is the only one in Washington and the second on the West Coast. The Kitsap trail is the first routed entirely on saltwater.

The designation doesn’t come with federal funding, nor does it put Kitsap’s route under national park authority, but it does boost Kitsap’s profile as a national destination for kayakers, canoers and paddleboarders.

Paddleboarder Ezra Pergam isn’t surprised Kitsap earned the designation.

“For paddling, we are very fortunate to live in one of the best places in the world. Literally, the world,” said Pergram, a coastal Floridian who now lives in Silverdale.

Kingston paddleboarder John Straub said Kitsap is already a destination for land-based trail users, including runners and mountain bikers.

“This designation is another big feather in our cap,” he said. “It says ‘hey, look at this area. There’s a whole lot to do here.’”

Pergam and Straub were two of the dozens of paddlers drawn to the recent Kitsap Peninsula Water Trail Festival, an annual event on the Silverdale waterfront organized by Olympic Outdoor Center.

The June 21 festival just happened to fall two days after the National Park Service notified Kitsap County officials that Kitsap’s trail had gotten the nod. 

 “This is not only a tremendous success for Kitsap, but also for Washington state,” said Patty Graf-Hoke, executive director of Visit Kitsap Peninsula, the tourism bureau that played a key role in developing the trail. “It’s great positioning that sets the stage for us to be a national or international destination. And from Seattle, too, with all the growth there. Kitsap is really becoming an outdoor playground for the region.”

The water trail idea was developed by Graf-Hoke and John Kuntz, founder of Port-Gamble-based Olympic Outdoor Center and a board member of Visit Kitsap Peninsula. But it wasn’t until Kitsap County got behind the effort that local paddlers developed national aspirations.

“I never thought we’d have a national trail — ever,” Kuntz said. “I was happy with just a Kitsap trail.”

Kitsap County Special Projects Manager Eric Baker said the county got involved after it became clear that designation would be a “boon to the local tourism economy.”

The park service has already added the Kitsap water trail to its website, and park officials say Kitsap will be part of national water trail promotions.


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