Joe Schmitt writes a weekly blog called The Good Life, featuring information about the region’s history, culture, climate and economy. The blog also showcases new residents, clubs and organizations, outdoor recreational opportunities and local events.
Nearly a decade ago, local outdoor enthusiasts began planning a hiking trail that would connect the city of Yakima to Mt. Rainer. Proponents of the trail realized that its path closely followed many of the hikes that U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas took when he was growing up in Yakima. Thus the 75-mile route ultimately became the William O. Douglas Trail. Douglas came to Yakima after the death of his father in 1904. As a young boy, he considered himself too frail to keep up with other boys so Douglas began hiking the hills around Yakima and Selah to strengthen his legs.
By age 15, he was an accomplished hiker and well known among Indian tribal leaders from Yakima to Mt. Rainier. He ultimately graduated as valedictorian from Yakima High School (now Davis High School), earned his bachelor’s degree from Whitman College, and then graduated from Columbia Law School in New York. In 1936 President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Douglas to the Securities and Exchange Commission. After three years, President Roosevelt nominated him to serve on the Supreme Court where he became the longest serving U.S. Supreme Court Justice in history until his retirement in 1975. During his tenure, Justice Douglas used his influence and love of nature to preserve wilderness areas in at least six states around the nation. He never forgot about the mountains back home and would spend vacations and break time at his cabin at Goose Prairie.
The William O. Douglas Trail has twelve distinct eco-systems due to the Cascade Mountains rain-shadow effect providing hikers a variety of vegetation zones from arid shrub-steppe to alpine. Along the way are many lakes and ponds, both named and unnamed, cliffs and peaks, with breathtaking vistas of Mts. Rainier and Adams. There are still a few sections of the trail that need to be linked or further improved but outdoor adventurers can now find and follow Douglas’ path all the way from Yakima to Mount Rainier. Douglas is one of Yakima’s most famous residents to it is great and appropriate to see this new trail named in his honor. In his words, “It is only by foot that one can really come to know the nation.”