For those in the Maple Valley area who want a fun, outdoor adventure with the little ones or just a delightful walk through the woods, the Gnome Trail at Legacy Site is just the ticket.
The Gnome Trail has become one of Maple Valley’s most interesting attractions as various garden gnomes of size, shape, and origin are peppered throughout the walking trail, placed there by local gnome enthusiasts and visitors, far and wide. Located across the street from Rock Creek Elementary School, it’s a whimsical, sight to behold.
“For the most part we’ve seen a pretty good response,” said Robert Eaton, Maple Valley’s Deputy Parks Director.
A combination of community effort and the city’s parks department, the Gnome Trail is part of the 50-acre Legacy Site park off of the Maple Valley-Black Diamond Road, which hosts the city’s farmers market and is also an access point to the Green to Cedar River Trail.
The Legacy Site hasn’t always been home to the Maple Valley gnomes. Before the trail’s kickoff day back on Aug. 10, 2020, the Gnome Trail was a small part of the almost labyrinthine trails of the Henry’s Ridge Open Space, a 250-acre forest area southeast of Maple Valley. Hikers would walk through the various fairytale-inspired trails like “Once Upon a Time” or “Ogre” to get to the original Gnome Trail to find an open spot within the trees to place their own garden gnome.
Unfortunately, the Henry Ridge Gnome Trail’s popularity proved to be its downfall. Not only is the forest’s main trailhead located in a residential area with no dedicated parking, but many of the trails within the area are intended for mountain bikers. As these problems arose, the Maple Valley parks department was approached by King County with an opportunity to relocate the Gnome Trail.
At the height of the pandemic, a “re-home the gnome” event was set up where park workers and volunteers collaborated to bring all the gnomes from Henry Ridge to Legacy Site, a move that Eaton described as “a natural fit.” At the Legacy Site, there’s a trail that even small children can traverse, along with a parking lot, portable bathrooms, and a large, covered pavilion.
And while the trail is enormously popular, there is a small issue of broken gnomes and even instances of intentional vandalism. On one hand, the trail’s accessibility is a triumph, but it also means that the gnomes that live within the trails are vulnerable.
Volunteers and park workers clean up the broken pieces as often as possible and place them in a spot on the trail called the Gnome Graveyard, where the destroyed gnomes are safely stored.
“We have routine inspections of our trails and it’s our due diligence to make sure the vandalism isn’t a recurring problem,” said Eaton.
Despite the sad sight of broken garden gnomes that someone put effort into placing onto the trail, people are still energized by the magical pull of the Gnome Trail.
“People are becoming more creative with placing the gnomes,” said Eaton. “People will bring new gnomes, which I think is pretty cool.”