Contractors are working to repair two tunnels on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail that have been closed since 2009 when inspectors found falling debris hazards inside of them.
The two former railroad tunnels — Numbers 48 and 49 on the old Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad, commonly known as the Milwaukee Road — are located east of Snoqualmie Pass between Hyak and Easton.
They’re posted with “no trespassing” signs and detours signs.
In all, the state closed five tunnels on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in 2009. The rails-to-trails path runs through Washington’s Iron Horse State Park from about Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend to the Columbia River.
The Snoqualmie Pass tunnel — at 2.2 miles one of the longest rail-trail tunnels in the nation — was repaired and reopened in 2011. That created a resurgence in bicyclists using the trail for recreation and for traveling across the Cascade Mountains.
That still leaves Tunnels 46 (shown at left) and 47 closed. The on-road, 14.5-mile detour around those tunnels bypasses the rugged and scenic Upper Yakima River canyon between Cle Elum and Thorp, limiting visitors and use of the trail.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy have both recently called on the state to pay $3 million to repair those tunnels and once again open the 82-mile trail “through one of the most spectacular landscapes in America.”
Investing $3 million to reopen the Iron Horse State Park rail-trail would be a very wise investment for the state, and one that will repay itself many times over in additional consumer spending on meals and accommodation,” says our Manager of Trail Development in the Northeast, Carl Knoch, who has been at the forefront of trail user economic impact study.
“At 82 miles, the trail is long enough to require overnight stays in local communities, and that’s when businesses capture the most economic benefit. But while the tunnels remain closed, trails tourists will go elsewhere. Washington has this remarkable asset that is worth many millions in tourism revenue, but it is not being maximized.
But tunnels #46 and 47 just west of Thorp remain closed to the public, effectively closing a 15-mile stretch of trail between Thorp and South Cle Elum. This section of trail runs through the spectacular Yakima River Canyon and sweeping desert grasslands of Central Washington. A gap in the trail is a significant loss for people seeking recreation in Upper Kittitas County, and has a negative impact on the nearby communities and businesses that rely on tourism.
The state advertised a contract for work on Tunnels 49 and 48 last year. They’re expected to be reopened later this month.
Tunnel 49 is a short tunnel east of Hyak and Keechelus Lake. The short detour around that tunnel goes up and over a hill. Although some bicyclists ride through it, the tunnel floor is littered with debris that’s fallen from overhead.
Tunnel 48 is in the vicinity of Easton, and access to that portion of the trail is blocked off with a chain link fence. Bicyclists must take a winding detour around Lake Easton and through Easton State Park to rejoin the trail on the east side of town.
The reopening of all of these tunnels on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail could provide a much needed economic stimulus to this region.
Meanwhile, the BusUp Shuttle that carried passengers and bicycles to Snoqualmie Pass for one-way, downhill bike rides to Rattlesnake Lake has suspended service because of new files instituted by the state park commission.
More about the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.