Brian Mittge Commentary: Meet the Resident Artist of the Willapa Hills Trail


The Willapa Hill Trail is one of the new “great wonders of Lewis County,” and now the trail has an artist dedicated to properly capturing its many beautiful dimensions. 

Charlie Funk has spent the last few years painting the trail, and now many of these paintings are on display for the month of July at the Market Street Bakery in downtown Chehalis. 

His paintings are ethereal, summoning the essence of special places along the wooded path. 

“That’s the beauty of the trail,” Funk told me in an interview conducted by phone as he and his wife were enjoying breakfast at the bakery where his paintings are hanging. “You’re seeing all this stuff that no one else sees, in a way.”

Often, Funk will set up his easel right on the trail, leading to lots of happy conversations with passers-by. 

“When I was doing Dryad School a gal came along and wanted to take my picture,” Funk said. “She said her husband’s grandfather had gone to that school.”

Funk grew up on the other end of the trail, in South Bend, graduating in 1955. Back then the future Willapa Hills Trail was actually still the home of an active railroad. In fact, Funk used to ride the passenger train to visit his cousin in Menlo. The train cars were a motley collection old castoffs from other railroads, but there was still some elegance to be found. 

“We had a potbelly stove and red velvet seats,” Funk said. “It was a high-class car. It was no longer used so they just shoved it down there.”

Although a longtime resident of Chehalis (he used to substitute teach when I was in high school), Funk and his wife only visited the Willapa Hill Trail for the first time three years ago.

“Why we’d never done it I don’t know. We went over and literally fell in love with it. It’s great,” Funk said. A lifelong artist, he immediately started painting. 

Some of his paintings were on display at the Market Street Bakery last summer. This year, he’s back and his collection is larger. The paintings are for sale; two have already sold. They’re available at the bakery or online at 

Check out his paintings and let them inspire you to visit the Willapa Hills Trail. Even for those of us without an artist’s eye, the trail is still a picture of beauty.


Speaking of the Willapa Hills Trail, in a recent column I wrote about the record-setting accomplishment of cyclist Chris Brewer, who rode the length of the trail and back in one day. In the interest of fairness (since Brewer is a candidate for Centralia City Council), I offered space in this column to any other candidates for his seat with similarly epic accomplishments. 

I received a fascinating email from Russell Barr, who is running for the same council seat. 

Barr is also a cyclist who once rode a bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles on an unsupported camping trip with a friend. At that time (1984) he was riding that same bicycle to Van Nuys and Culver City on Saturdays over two years to learn a form of Tai Chi that he ended up teaching at Centralia College for 18 years. He still regularly practices and teaches at the college clocktower.

“After graduating from Evergreen in 2000, while working for the Centralia school district maintenance department, I created a new work order entry system in Microsoft Access. I was also standing by with a shovel when the backhoe dug up and broke open the gas main going to the middle school. The software was a bigger accomplishment but seeing the gas shooting out of that pipe not 10 feet away was some real excitement,” he wrote.

He has worked in K-12 education software since 2004 — he says he solves problems for a living. 

“The software is used by hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and administrators  across the country and Canada so I feel like my day job has meaning,” he wrote. 

He was profiled in The Chronicle in 2000 and 2004 with stories about knifemaking. He also has performed on stage silently as Drosselmeyer in the local Nutcracker performances as well as singing for services, open mics “and any time I can try to get people singing along.”

He said he has walked the new gravel path around the China Creek flood abatement area on Gold Street at least 200 times.

“It is in appreciation of what our city has to offer that I have offered myself up to serve on city council,” he wrote.

Thanks, Russell, for the information, and a big thanks to all the quality candidates who have offered their time and expertise to voters for consideration in leading our cities and community groups. Because of folks like you, we CAN have nice things. 


Brian Mittge is a fan of trails, paintings and good people giving of themselves. Drop him a line at