Farmer to trail user: “Pardon my tractor.”
That exchange may become common as Washington state allows motorized vehicles used by ranchers and farmers to have access to 455 miles of rail-trails now used primarily by bicyclists, hikers, and equestrians. The state Park and Recreation Commission approved the motorized use policy for trails last month.
The new rule allows farmers and ranchers to use the paved or gravel trails to access parts of their property that may otherwise be difficult to reach. They’ll be charged up to $1,000 per mile for a 5-year permit.
Farm traffic on trails
Bicyclists and hikers will begin sharing the trail with farm vehicles only on the 455 miles of rail-trail controlled by the state parks department. They are:
John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park;
Willapa Hills State Park Trail;
Klickitat State Park Trail;
Columbia Plateau State Park Trail;
Spokane River Centennial State Park Trail.
The new policy doesn’t apply to regional trails that pass through small pieces of state parks, such as Olympic Discovery Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail, or the Discovery Trail. Also, trails outside the state parks department purview aren’t included in the policy.
Recreational vehicles, such as motorcycles or ATVs, are still prohibited from using trails.
Reading the policy, it sounds like the state parks department is trying to be a good neighbor to farmers and ranchers, as well as try to limit encounters with trail users and protect the trails from damage.
Farming and ranching is hard enough already, and I’m sure nobody wants to make is more difficult. However, I wonder how these property owners accessed their remote sections of property while the railroads were still running on these corridors. You know the railroad companies didn’t allow tractors onto the tracks.
These rail-trails were created for recreation and non-motorized transportation, be it by horse, foot or bicycle. Let’s hope this action doesn’t jeopardize that.
[See the new trail use policy here. Non-Recreational Motorized Use of State Park Long Distance Trail Corridors]
Use of a trail by farmers and ranchers will only be considered in areas where there is no other “practical alternative” for access to an abutting property, according to the new policy. Also, farm equipment on the trail won’t be allowed “in areas of high recreational use.”
There also are rules for the use of flaggers and bollards for agricultural traffic areas on the trail, as well as speed limits.
Also, the policy requires farmers to immediately repair any damage to the trail and not wait until the end of the season.
Last spring, I ran into a case in Pacific County where a rancher on the Willapa Trail was using the trail to get to a pasture. I have no idea whether he had permission to do so, but the ATV he’d been using had turned about a mile of trail into a muddy quagmire.
The state plans to charge fees — from $100 to $1,000 per mile of trail for a five-year permit — depending on the frequency of use and the size of the vehicle. The state may, according to the policy, reduce the fees for farmers or ranchers who make improvements to the trail they’re using.
Let’s hope the state parks commission takes another look at this rule in a couple of years to make sure it hasn’t damaged the state trail system.
The state commission had been gathering comments on motorized use policy on the policy for months before the vote on Jan. 29. Here’s an example of some comments.
— “I am a frequent user of the John Wayne Trail, both on foot with my dog and on my mountain bike. I have experienced trail use while trucks and motorcycles poach portions of the trails. Encountering motorized vehicles while trying to enjoy nature is disturbing, and frightens my dog as well as distracting from my enjoyment. I am STRONGLY against allowing any motorized access. I would avoid the trails to avoid the encounters. Please, please do not open access to motorized vehicles. There are very few areas to get away from vehicles to walk, jog, bike long distance, please don’t take this option away… ”
— “Please make long distance trails open for all uses , including motorized use. We need to all share the trails, as we all pay our fair share of state taxes and feed. The majority of ORV enthusiasts are receptive of nature, and others, and wish to enjoy the beautiful outdoors that WA state provides. ..”
— “Leave the trails to Non-motorized users… Mountain Bikes, Hikers, Horses. The trails will get torn up and made wider. People will not stay at a slower speed. I see many accidents in the making by opening it up for motorized users. People going fast (not obeying a speed limit) and coming head on into Mountain Bikes, Hikers, Horses ect. Most hikers and horses average a 3-4 mph speed. I don’t see a safe way to add motorized users to the trails…”