So this is what can happen when one of those treasured abandoned railroad corridors isn’t fully developed into a first-class rail-trail for bicycling, hiking and horseback riding.
A couple of state legislators want the state of Washington to abandon a section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and give it to adjacent private landowners. [Update: “Wording errors saved trail from private takeover”]
The John Wayne Pioneer Trail — at 253 miles — is the longest rail-trail in the US. It starts about an hour east of Seattle and runs east through the rest of the state, hooking up with rail-trails in Idaho and Montana.
While the 110 miles of trail in western Washington is regularly maintained as part of the Iron Horse Trail State Park, completion of the trail east of the Columbia River is hit and miss.
Giving up Columbia River to Malden
The neglected section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail from the Columbia River to the town of Malden in eastern Washington is the target of the legislators. We’re talking about more than 100 miles of abandoned railroad corridor.
Officials in the town of Tekoa, located at the eastern end of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, passed a resolution condemning the move to give away the trail. They say the state should improve the trail to make it a destination for long-distance bicyclists and others. It would help to boost economies along the length of the trail that once carried the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.
Not well used
The transfer is backed by two state house Republicans, Joe Schmick and Mary Dye. The Spokesman-Review says:
Schmick “insisted the stretch from the Columbia east to Malden is not well-used. That stretch across the Columbia Plateau has no services or water, and lots of rattlesnakes but very few hikers. Weeds grow along the trail, spreading seeds and fueling fires, and some of the trestles aren’t safe, he said.”
The fact that the old railroad corridor is not frequently used isn’t in dispute. Much of the trail is rocky ballast left over from the railroad days. Trestles are collapsing and some railroad cuts are filled with tumble weed. However, a few hardy souls who do tackle that stretch every year remark at the desolate beauty of the area along Crab Creek and elsewhere.
According to the Spokesman-Review, the 2015-2017 capital budget called for the land transfer but the geographic description in the bill was inaccurate. The Parks and Recreation Commission told the newspaper that the language is under review, so there are no immediate plans to abandon the trail.
[Update: Blaszak says Snohomish representative Hans Dunshee has promised a full hearing on the issue in the next legislative session.]
Improve trail to boost tourism
Of course, a better idea would be to upgrade this section to a passable trail. The Department of Natural Resources limits access to this rugged area behind a series of locked gates. Even so, the DNR staff member who handles permits says he issues 35 to 50 a year to this area. Consider how many traveling bicyclists would pass through it the trail were improved from its deplorable condition.
That’s what the city officials in Tekoa would like to see — an upgraded trail that’s a destination for those seeking recreation. They hope to enlist other towns along the trail route to their cause.
The Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association is a taking an active role in reversing this proposal to turn over a section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail to private landowners. You can learn more or contact them at their Facebook page.