Trail memorial project seeks to honor dedicated volunteer

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When Hall Baetz got something in his mind to do, there was nothing that would stand in his way, his friends and family said.

That’s how it was when Hall decided to dedicate a large portion of his retired life to planning and securing funding for the Eaglemount section of the Olympic Discovery Trail. Hall saw a vision of a bike trail that would connect the Puget Sound to the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula and he would not stop until it was complete and he could bike it himself.

Before he could see the completion of the trail, Hall passed away in January 2019. Now a group of Hall’s close friends and fellow trail advocates are working to immortalize Hall and his commitment to the Olympic Discovery Trail in a dedicated trailhead.

A long time coming and a long way to go

The idea for what is called the “Eaglemount” section of the trail did not start with Hall, but the way his son Brant and his fellow trail advocates tell it, there is no way it would have ever been possible without Hall’s dedication.

After the completion of the Larry Scott Trail in the 1980s that started in Port Townsend and ended near Four Corners Road, the next step was always to continue the Olympic Discovery Trail to Discovery Bay where it would join up with the next section.

The Eaglemount section was the “missing link.”

John Fleming, project manager in Jefferson County Public Works for the trail, began working with Hall immediately after Fleming was hired by the county in 2016. Hall had been pressing forward on the idea since 2015, meeting with land owners, congressmen and state lawmakers advocating for the necessity of a new trail segment.

Without Hall and his commitment, Fleming said the momentum from the county that funds his position never would have been possible.

From his house in Adelma Beach, Hall would see bicyclists come to the end of the Larry Scott Trail and look around scratching their heads wondering where to go next, Fleming said.

With no connecting trail the only way to the next section is along Highway 20.

 

Cyclists have to navigate a winding 50 mph highway with little to no shoulder and deep ditches.

A new section to connect the two would not only be safer for riders, but also help to complete the trail as a destination for international tourism.
“They told him it couldn’t be done,” Brant said. “But he would not take no for an answer.”

Over the last five years of his life, Fleming estimates that Hall, a retired attorney, donated close to 7,000 hours of his time physically bushwacking paths, meeting with legislators and doing legal consulting for the project.

His friends and family said his dedication was unmatched. Failure was never an option.

“I mean, he would email me at 3 in the morning,” Fleming said. “And even when he wasn’t working on the trail he was thinking about it. If he had been against the trail it never would have happened. Luckily he was on the trail’s side.”

For Hall, the trail was his pet project in retirement and his dream was to one day ride it from start to finish.

“Hall said that so many times,” Fleming said. “‘I just want to ride this before I die.’”

Last year in April, a study funded by the state Legislature identified and researched three possible routes for the new section.

What takes up Fleming’s days now is working on the land acquisition with the private and public owners whose land will one day host the trail.

But even from here, there is still years of work left to do.

Fleming said Hall always thought of the trail project as one that could be completed in three to five years, not 10 to 20.

Hall was used to working at the speed of the private sector, where 12-hour days and 80-hour work weeks weren’t unusual. Working at the speed of local government with willing sellers of private property is much different, Fleming said.

Of the 27 miles of the Olympic Discovery Trail planned in Jefferson County, 60 percent has been completed over the last 29 years, Fleming said.

 

A force of nature, a relentless drive

Hall Baetz was not just an avid bike rider but also an accomplished and longtime athlete.

Before his death, he was in incredible shape, often hopping on his bike for long-distance trips.

Brant said Hall once rode up to Hurricane Ridge and back from Discovery Bay with a friend. At the end of the over-100-mile round-trip outing. Hall joked that he could pick up and head back for another lap.

Hall often traveled to St. George, Utah to participate in the Senior World Biking competition, where he won several medals.

He was the de facto leader of a large running group called the Torrs that first formed in the early 1980s. The goal of the group was to always stay connected to each other, no matter where its members went. So Hall, called the glue of the group, would organize a yearly reunion for the 20 to 30 members every December.

“Everything Hall did, he did with intensity,” said Greg Adams, a member of the Torrs and a longtime friend and business partner.

Brant said what inspired him about his dad was his relentless drive.

“When he would lock onto something he would not let go, and that was always a big inspiration for me,” Brant said. “He would go anywhere, talk to anyone to do what he needed to do.”

“He made everybody feel like they were his best friend,” Fleming said.

It was this lust for life and never ending energy that made Hall’s sudden death in 2019 at the age of 77 so shocking for his friends and family.

One day, Brant recalled, Hall began to feel sick and dizzy, like he had the flu. Within weeks he was in the hospital in a coma. He then suffered a brain hemorrhage and passed away.

Fleming said Hall’s death has not slowed momentum on the project and that his spirit lives on within it.

“For the people that knew him we want to complete the trail to carry on with his work and vision,” Fleming said. “If anything, he was a champion for the trail cause.”

Adams said immediately after Hall’s death he knew the Torrs needed to do something to remember him. The idea for the memorial trailhead, to immortalize Hall and his contribution to the project, came together quickly.

The first step is to find and secure a location for the memorial, said Jeff Selby, vice president of the Peninsula Trails Coalition. Then the group will present a design for the project to the Torrs at their annual meeting in December, where Adams said he believes they will be able to raise significant funds for construction.

The general vision for the project is a trailhead with picnic tables, a bike rack, a covered area and a plaque that acknowledges Hall’s contribution to the trail, Selby said.

Adams said he hopes it can be an integral part of the trail and one where the natural beauty of the landscape can bring people together.

Brant said he is grateful to the Torrs and to the many others who are working on the memorial trailhead project because he sees it as a legacy for his family.

“This trail would not have happened without my dad,” he said. “I am so grateful that they took it upon themselves to honor him in this way.”

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