It’s been 25 years since Wade and Tania Holden started a scrappy nonprofit to clean up the trash-jammed backwoods of King County, and in that time, the couple has collected their fair share of stories.
There’s the time around the turn of the century when Wade Holden was scouting for trash down side roads branching off of the Middle Fork, in the woods east of North Bend. It was summer and “hotter than all get-out” when he stumbled across an ad-hoc chop shop.
Dismantled Jeep Grand Cherokees were strewn around, and there was a woman passed out in a tent, completely naked.
“I knew there was something going on, so I got the hell out of there real quick,” Holden said.
He called a friend in the Forest Service, who passed the tip on to the King County Sheriff’s Office, which ended up running a sting on the operation. Afterward, it was Holden and his nonprofit, Friends of the Trail, that were hauling the vehicle husks out of the woods for disposal.
Another time, Holden and his crew cleaned the entire Palouse to Cascades trail, from the Idaho border to western Washington.
The Holdens, transplants from Texas, moved to Washington state in 1992. At the time, Wade Holden was doing contractor work building fences. But after backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the couple found trash along every trail. They decided to do something about it, and formed a nonprofit. Wade took care of the cleanups, and Tania looked after the bookkeeping and grant writing.
Their first big job, beginning in 1996, was cleaning up the Middle Fork, which Wade Holden described as having 100 years worth of trash. Occasionally there would be people shooting near them, or they would come across drug operations and people hiding out. But six years later, they had managed to pull 143 abandoned vehicles out of the area and spruce up the Middle Fork.
“We went in there full force, and made a lot of effort to go in there,” he said. “We put in our blood, sweat and tears for the trail, that’s for sure.”
A quarter-century later, and the duo is still at it. They average $160,000 a year from their work, but most of that goes to payroll for the two paid crew chiefs. Tania Holden also works for the city of Snoqualmie writing grants, where she has worked for decades.
They work mainly on contracts with King, Snohomish and Kittitas counties for cleanup on both sides of the Cascades. While they used to mostly work in the woods, they’ve also expanded into jobs cleaning up abandoned encampments in urban areas and similar jobs.
They haul cars out of the woods, tear down and clean up abandoned cabins, clean up trash from beside streams, pick up lake basins, among other projects.
Friends of the Trail relies heavily on volunteers for cleanups, as well as people who are required to work off community service through the courts. It’s different from working at a food bank for community service, but Wade Holden said it’s rewarding work for him and those who choose to join him.
Ed Dodd is a crew chief who has been with Friends of the Trail for 21 years. In that time, he’s seen a growing awareness of the environmental problems that abandoned trash poses.
“I see a lot more people nowadays who are looking for people who are potentially littering,” he said.
A sense of satisfaction in the job has kept him around, especially working with people who worked off community service. He’ll keep in touch with people he worked with decades ago.
Dodd also works as a manager at Crate and Barrel in Seattle, but he’s planning on sticking with Friends of the Trail. Seeing wilderness cleaned up has been rewarding, he said.
Oftentimes, the work is “out of sight, out of mind” for many people. Wade Holden said he started the nonprofit because no one else was doing clean up work in the county.
“If we weren’t doing this, I don’t know if anybody would be doing it,” he said.
Holden is 62, and said he’s hoping to retire in the next five or six years. He’s planning on handing over the reins to one of his crew chiefs, Mark Zandi. But for now, he’s still hard at work.
“It’s been a great journey getting all this stuff done, and it really is nice knowing that you’re giving something back to your community,” he said.
Tania Holden said it’s been rewarding watching their nonprofit grow.
“It’s just a good organization,” she said. “We’ve been at it for 25 years now so we kind of want to celebrate that and keep up the good work.”
The 25th anniversary party will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Meadowbrook Interpretive Center. Wade Holden said the public is invited for a celebration including food, drinks and live music.