An Eastern Washington state legislator is back pedaling on his scheme to close 130 miles of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and turn it over to private landowners after a public hearing in Tekoa on Wednesday.Republican Rep. Joe Schmick, at a public meeting with the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association, agreed to set up a citizens committee of trail advocates and adjacent landowners to help decide the future of the eastern section of the trail that stretches 253 miles across the state, the longest rail-trail conversion in the US.
Schmick is quoted in the Daily Pullman:
“I’m not going to plan on introducing legislation to close the trail until we hear from this committee.” [The story is reprinted in full at the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association Facebook page]
The controversy erupted a week ago after a ploy by state Reps. Schmick and Mary Dye to close the rail-trail became public.
They had intended to close the John Wayne Pioneer Trail from the Columbia River to the town of Malden and turn it over to adjacent landowners. The issue avoided public notice by being included as addendum to the Capital Budget. The state couldn’t act on the provision, however, because of a wording error that marked the closure “from the Columbia River to the Columbia River.” [See “Wording error saved John Wayne Pioneer Trail”]The Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association has taken the lead in saving the trail. Although the Schmick-Dye scheme would have closed the trail west of Tekoa, members realized it would destroy the bicycle tourism benefits of a cross-state trail. Time and again, cities located along rail-trails have realized a boost in tourism economy linked to people traveling those trails.
Ted Blaszak, president of the trail association and a member of the Tekoa City Council, wrote at the group’s Facebook page:
“My hope is that we can put any talk about closing the trail behind us and now get the funding from WA that our legislators control. … When the trail is more user friendly we have more active use. The active use of hikers, horse riders and bikers will help deter dumping and other crime. It is a beautiful trail, the only cross state trail like, please get out there and enjoy it!!”
In addition to local trail advocates and adjacent landowners, Blaszak said he’d like to have statewide input on the committee because it’s part of a statewide trail.
Schmick said he moved to close the trail because adjacent landowners reported trespassing, theft, scavenging, trash dumping and illegal hunting on their land from people accessing the trail.
Although the John Wayne Pioneer Trail stretches from North Bend to Tekoa, most of the trail use is focused on the improved section of trail between North Bend and Ellensburg. Many sections of trail in eastern Washington still have the original rough ballast left behind with the railroad abandoned the corridor and pulled up tracks back in the 1980s.
Still, those few who ride the trail say it is beautiful.