There's a club in the Puget Sound area, one with thousands of members, but no bylaws; membership is free, but once you're in, you wind up paying your dues. Lots of dues.
There’s a club in the Puget Sound area, one with thousands of members, but no bylaws; membership is free, but once you’re in, you wind up paying your dues. Lots of dues.
It’s called the Wooden Shoe Club, and its leader was Ruth Ittner, a master mobilizer of volunteers and the driving force behind a popular hiking trail 20 years in the making.
Club member Dennis Evans puts it this way: “She’d approach you and say, ‘Wouldn’t you like to help with … “
And before you knew it, he laughed, you had joined the “Wouldn’t you’s” — colloquially, the “Wooden Shoes” — an army of trail-clearers and others who helped Ms. Ittner turn her obsession, the Iron Goat Trail, into reality.
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Ms. Ittner died June 3, at age 92, of lymphoma. She continued to advocate for her beloved trail until close to the very end.
Over the years, Evans said, Ms. Ittner must have recruited thousands of people. “Ruth was hard to resist,” he recalled.
“She had a way of making you feel like you needed to do this,” said his wife, Sandy.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” said Annik Wolfe, another Wooden Shoe member. This makes her laugh. “If you volunteered for one thing, you ended up working on four things.”
They mean this in the nicest way, of course. Because without Ms. Ittner’s persistence, Iron Goat Trail, near Skykomish, which is visited by thousands of outdoor enthusiasts every year, would never have come to be.
Ms. Ittner was born in England and moved with her family to Australia and Hawaii before they settled on Mercer Island. For perhaps 50 years, she lived in an apartment on Queen Anne, before moving to a retirement home.
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Washington, and then worked there for 30 years in the Institute for Public Policy and Management. She retired in 1981.
A trails advocate since at least the 1950s, Ms. Ittner approached the Forest Service in 1987 with an idea: to build a trail to mark Washington’s centennial. The Forest Service suggested an area with historical significance: In 1910, it was the site of an avalanche that killed 96 people. And because there was an old railroad grade, it would be a relatively flat trail, accessible to all.
Ms. Ittner thought the project would take a couple of years.
“I thought we were just going to open up and hike it,” she said on a video about the project, narrated by Rick Steves. Turns out it was hard enough to find the long-abandoned railroad bed, much less hike it.
Ms. Ittner didn’t let up, organizing trail-clearing events, lobbying for financing, and eventually getting not only a trail built but parking areas, an interpretive center, and restroom facilities as well.
“She accomplished things up there that most of us would think could not be done,” Evans said.
And she remained enthusiastic about it, year after year. It was single-mindedness, for sure, but also a real appreciation for the outdoors.
“I love to hike in early spring, when there’s carpets of yellow violets,” she said in the video. “I also love it in the fall, when you get the rustle of the leaves.”
Ms. Ittner instilled that appreciation in family, as well. Never married, she made sure her brother’s children and grandchildren got a wilderness education, taking them on hikes and ski trips. Great-niece Sarah Bactad recalls Ms. Ittner hauling her and four siblings to Stampede Pass each winter for ski lessons. The ski school ran eight weekends, with an overnight stay each time.
“I’m so thankful for that,” she said.
In addition to Bactad, she is survived by her brother, Bruce, of Kent, and seven nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. June 27 at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1217 Sixth Ave., Seattle.
Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 begin_of_the_skype_highlightingÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 206-464-2562Â Â Â Â Â Â end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlightingÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 206-464-2562Â Â Â Â Â Â end_of_the_skype_highlighting or email@example.com