Bicycle tours offer new way to explore east Skagit County

August 18, 2018

SEDRO-WOOLLEY — A new enterprise, Tea and Tour out of Willowbrook Manor, is offering bicycle tours of the Sedro-Woolley and Lyman areas this summer.

The tours focus on exploring the rural landscape between the city and the town, and delving into the histories of each.

The tours include tea at the English-style manor built by Willowbrook owner Terry Gifford and her family, with views of the Skagit Valley, forested hills and Gifford’s chamomile farm.

The goal of the tours is to provide a group experience that combines relaxation and recreation while simultaneously bringing visitors in to discover the scenery, history and businesses in the area.

Gifford and three friends set out Thursday on a test run of the Sedro-Woolley tour, guided by maps and little yellow arrows painted on the roads.

Along the route are 13 yellow posts marking tour stops.

Ann Acton, Christine Critchley and Donna Bailey took in views and historical facts along the route while sipping iced tea that had been steeped at Willowbrook Manor.

The tour took the group along several miles of the tree-shaded Cascade Trail, crossing creeks and passing livestock including alpacas, goats and cows.

In the city, the tour passed the Skagit River, through what was once the divide between separate towns of Sedro and Woolley and into the heart of the city that was once a bustling pioneer town.

“There was a time, when the railroads were bringing people in, that Sedro-Woolley was really the hub of things in the area,” Gifford said.

The various stops describe where the railroads cut across the landscape and where the first homes, schools, hospitals, hotels and businesses stood.

“There was a strip of forest between Sedro and Woolley ... still covered by towering firs and Western red cedar more than 200 feet high,” Critchley said, reading from a guide at tour stop No. 3.

A few brick buildings built in the early 1900s still stand, but many wooden structures burned down or were flooded out, Critchley said. Some, including Hotel Sedro that caught fire six years after being built, aren’t documented in photographs.

“It’s almost like the whole town burned down at one time or another,” Acton said as the group prepared to head back to Willowbrook Manor.

The manor is nestled about a half-mile south of Highway 20, between Sedro-Woolley and Lyman.

Gifford’s family has owned and lived on the property since 1996 and decided in recent years to pursue ways to open their home to the public. The family started a chamomile farm in 2017.

The “English tea house and chamomile farm” now offers various bicycle tours and tea times by reservation.

The tours include tea and scones served at the manor, bicycles and helmets, a map and a key to access information tucked inside the posts at each tour stop.

The historic information and images found at each stop was compiled in partnership with the Sedro-Woolley Museum and online archive Skagit River Journal.

The tours begin this weekend and are planned to continue through mid-October, Gifford said.

The tours have the support of Sedro-Woolley, Lyman and Skagit County.

Gifford said Lyman has agreed to allow the tour to showcase the town hall, located in the historic Minkler Mansion. In addition to the museum in Sedro-Woolley, the City Council approved allowing tour stops throughout the city, and the public works department helped install them.

“I think it’s kind of a neat deal she’s doing, something a little different that’s going to showcase our local history and combine some recreation into it,” Sedro-Woolley Public Works Operations Supervisor Nathan Salseina said. “The city is happy to support it.”

City staff said the tours offer a unique way to experience and learn about Sedro-Woolley.

“We’re excited about what she’s doing,” Sedro-Woolley Supervisor and Attorney Eron Berg said. “The bike ride is definitely a pleasant and safe ride, and coming into town with the history piece — sharing what we’ve got here and like so much with people who don’t know about it — the hope is it will bring in new people and visitors to discover businesses and who will come back to the community in the future.”

Skagit County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Adams said the tours will also bring more visitors to the Cascade Trail, which runs not only between Sedro-Woolley and Lyman but continues east to Concrete.

“It’s nice to see trails used in that way,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing that they are using public property for their private business. We are always interested in those kinds of partnerships.”

As for the tea, Gifford said she’s always loved a good cup, hot or iced, and recalls making tea from her family’s home-grown peppermint.

“I just love tea,” she said. “I feel tea is a gentle thing we can take time to enjoy and relish. There’s something about having tea that just makes things a little slower.”

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