Walkers find island’s back roads

The Great Island Friday walking group may not travel fast, but it goes the distance.

“Power walkers drop us right away,” member Ron Williamson said. “We are a meandering group – we stop, we look.

“We especially like small houses and mailboxes that are funky, the art that people have in their yards – the things that make this island what it is.”

In four years of casual Friday rambles, TGIF has covered more than 700 miles of island trails, beaches and roadways. The group now offers a calendar that documents its island hikes, with proceeds to benefit the Bainbridge Island Land Trust.

The walks began when Williamson decided, in 1998, to take Fridays off. He and his wife Ethie completed the Battle Point Park loop every Friday morning.

“It got boring,” Williamson said. “One day at the park, we ran into Ellen Howe and Susie Burns, who told us about their path through the Grand Forest. So we all went.”

The group coalesced slowly, as happenstance added first one, then another walker until there were a dozen.

Comprised of old-time islanders and some of what Wiliamson calls “new people” who have been here only 15 years, most are between 50 and 65 years old.

Williamson found himself tacitly nominated group guide, selecting each week’s walk. Suggestions for more walks came, he says, from unexpected sources. One favorite hike along Rockaway Beach and Taylor Road was suggested by his dental hygienist.

Then Williamson discovered that the tides were low in the morning, every other Friday between April to October.

“We mapped out all the beach walks,” Williamson said. “We found that there are good and bad beaches. For example, Rockaway beach is as rocky as the name suggests.”

The group’s favorite is Battle Point beach.

“It’s like being at the end of the earth out there,” Williamson said. “There may be houses nearby, but it seems remote.”

Another favorite is the tip of Wing Point.

“Out there, we felt like we were at the end of a diving board when you look back at the island,” member Ann Coombes said. “A ferry went by, and we did our best to look picturesque and rural.”

Development has made some trails that Williamson hiked years ago less accessible.

“There are fences where there were none,” WIlliamson said. “You used to be able to run from the north end of the island to the south, but now there’s a house plunked right in the middle of the trail between Strawberry Hill and New Brooklyn.”

Not all island development has been bad for hikers, however.

Williamson notes that trails around Blakely Harbor have been improved by developers.

When walker Roberta Leigh pointed out that the group’s rambles presented many photo opportunities, Williamson was appointed group “documentarian”; his efforts produced seven albums of photos.

After the walks, the group would go to the New Rose Cafe at Bainbridge Gardens and look at photographs.

TGIF members was not satisfied with just a few photographs, Williams says, but always pushed him to keep taking more.

“They were critical,” WIlliamson said. “They always wanted to see the latest, most up-to-date pics.”

Making a calendar using the pictures of their favorite Bainbridge haunts seemed a natural next step.

The calendar images follow the group from beach front to downtown Winslow. Most are photographs of island scenery, but one shows the band of TGIF friends walking along a dirt road, bright jackets a splotch of strong color in the late fall landscape.

The dozen friends have covered enough distance to walk to Oregon and back, but their decision to stick to island byways and to keep to a leisurely stroll has brought rewards.

“I had lived here 32 years,” Williamson said. “But I didn’t know the island until I walked it.”

Call 842-5499 for information about the TGIF island calendar.

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