Washington Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers History

Mike Swayne

The Trail Blazers is a volunteer organization of about 45 people (editors note: there are 55 members with 15 mossbacks for 2002) that contributes most of its time, energy and knowledge toward helping the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manage high lake fisheries. Members also participate in a variety of studies, conservation and wilderness protection activities, camp cleanups, stream restoration and trail maintenance, But the fish planting and surveying activities have given the Trail Blazers their focus that has endured for 65 years and has bound many of its members together for decades.

The first librarian, "Honest" Charlie Yadon assembled and maintained early Trail Blazer history. He was known as "Honest Charlie" by his hiking comrades because of his integrity, honesty and dedication, which he unselfishly directed toward the goals of the club. It is impossible to review the history without realizing the significance that Trail Blazer activities had not only on the high lakes but also on member’s lives. This is no ordinary sports club, here is a story of unusual service, dedication and effort. The club is relatively small but the participation rate is very high. Many lives have almost been totally absorbed by club activities. It seems the tougher the trip the better the Trail Blazers liked it. The Trail Blazers have kept planting and survey reports since the first trips in 1934. When you read accounts of various trips by members into the mountains over the decades, the magic of the lakes and alpine areas is evident. Over and over, a feeling of reverence and the privilege of being able to experience these areas is expressed.

The Trail Blazers originated in the early 1930’s, when four Seattle area men who fished and hiked together in the Cascade Mountain back country conceived the idea of a club - a club whose purpose was for comradeship on the trail, mutual exchange of ideas and experiences in hiking fishing, hunting and photography on backcountry trips and to learn more about conservation of fish and game. They invited seven friends to join them and formally organized at a meeting on Dec 27, 1933.

During their trips they found that few lakes had fish. They discussed the possibility of stocking the high lakes themselves and visited one of the state trout hatcheries. The hatchery superintendent, Chappie Dunstan, took an interest in the club and gave them information on back-packing fry, furnished cans to hold the fry and went with them on a few trips to show them how to care for the fish. He gave these men the benefit of all his experience and started them on the road to success. In recognition of his helpfulness, he was made the first honorary member of the club in 1937.

Trail Blazer Al Carlson was involved in the first efforts in Washington to plant fish by plane. In 1938 Al obtained information from the Forest Service on techniques they used to drop supplies using small parachutes. He then got a flying service to furnish the use of a float plane, and then he got the superintendent of plantings for the state interested. Experiments were conducted on Lake Washington dropping fish in 5 gallon cans tied to parachutes. When the details were worked out, Al dropped the first fish (7500 rainbow) by plane into Otter Lake in the Foss River drainage.

Trail Blazer Myron Christy had surveyed Otter Lake earlier in the year. This was the first comprehensive survey performed by the club. The lake was known to be barren of fish but information was assembled on the ice free season, topography, geology, shoreline features, vegetation, depth, clarity, pH, littoral vegetation phytoplankton, zooplankton, shallow and deep aquatic fauna and inlet and outlet spawning areas.

Each year as more lakes and streams were planted, and people saw the results, some would inquire and find that the Trail Blazers were responsible. Each year more back country hikers came to meetings and took part in the activities. It was stressed early on that all members must be active in meetings, discussions, planning, planting and surveys. In order to become a member, an applicant must take part in a full season of work and be judged on interest, behavior and cooperation.

The club grew until the war, when it lost many members to the armed services. All members returned except Bill Simon, who was lost in the Pacific. The Trail Blazers built a memorial at Nordrum Lake for Bill. Membership recovered during the late forties. Until the late 1950’s, the average trip involved a drive of 50 to 90 miles from Seattle. This was followed by a back pack with a 35-40 pound 5 gallon can of water and fry, carried about 6-8 miles, gaining from 2000 to 3000 feet in elevation. About half of the distance usually was cross country with no trail. After the 1950’s the trips varied as members ventured further from Seattle into the East, North and South Cascades and Olympics. Some trips involved a drive of over 150 miles from Seattle. Encroaching logging roads made more areas accessible, but the Trail Blazers pushed further into the more remote back country. In 1952 the Trail Blazers were awarded the seventh Outdoor Life’s Conservation Award for their work, as well as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Organization of the Year award in 1997.

During the sixties the club started experimenting with various methods of carrying fish to reduce weight and improve survival. The use of an anesthetic was short lived because there was little room for error in the dose. Sometimes there was complete success but other times complete failure. Another approach was to cut in half the 5 gallon cans that had been used for 30 years, add ice to the water and insulate to help keep water temperature down. These "half cans" worked well on some long trips but still required stops to refresh water. Another method was to use a gallon picnic jug and battery powered aerator. Oxygen loss rates of less than 1 ppm/hr for one pound of fish in a 1 gallon container could be achieved, which translated to about a 4 hr carrying time. Also starving fish for 3 days minimized water contamination and reduced metabolism. The current methods using lightweight plastic containers were developed during the 70’s by Trail Blazer Jim Mighell who worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service.