Most people who attended the state parks department’s planning meeting in Preston earlier this week for the John Wayne Pioneer Trail couldn’t help but come away with a feeling that things are bound to get better for the eastern section of the cross-state rail-trail.
“We’re winning,” trail advocate Ted Blaszak told me after the meeting on Tuesday. “We’re saving the trail.”
Blaszak is a city councilman in Tekoa at the east end of the trail and active member of the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association. That group, as well as the John Wayne Pioneers Wagons and Riders Association, Friends of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and others have been working since last fall to save the trail east of the Columbia River from a “land grab” for adjacent property owners orchestrated by the local political machine.
Their efforts caught the attention of Washington State Parks, which has been holding a series of meetings on how to best manage and improve the eastern section.
It’s about time.
The 287-mile rail-trail is the abandoned corridor of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad which the state acquired in 1980. The state improved the 110 miles of trail between North Bend and the Columbia River in 2000, and more recently began work on a 34-mile section between Malden and the Idaho border.
But for 36 years, the 140 miles between the Beverly Bridge over the Columbia River and Malden has been all but ignored. The railroad bridge at Beverly that links the eastern and western halves of the trail was even closed.
Before the state can move ahead, it needs a plan and it needs money. The state is hosting these meetings to get an idea how to proceed.
Those who attended Tuesday’s meeting commented on a number of issue the state is wrestling with:
- Noxious weeds and vegetation management;
- Trespass and fencing;
- Trailhead facilities (a dozen are being considered);
- Trail surface (a lot is ballast leftover from railroad);
- Missing and blocked bridges, trestles and tunnels;
- Changing the requirement for access permits;
- Possible name change (In the west, it’s the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and it runs through Iron Horse State Park.):
- Resolve gaps on the trail created by private property and a 30-mile active railroad;
- Protection of cultural and archeological sites, and plant and animal communities.
Write your legislator
While Blaszak said that he feels efforts are being made to improve the trail, he emphasizes that supporters need to continue writing their legislators.
“We’ll win as long as we keep the pressure up,” he said, “and that means writing our legislators.”
That effort has been going strong. Blaszak has been told that the John Wayne Trail received the second-most letters to legislators this year, just behind the trans-gender restroom issue.
So that’s how most people can help — write letters in support of the trail to their local legislators.
I’ve biked and camped in the western section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail many times. What strikes me is what an amazing resource we’d have if the trail were completed across the state.
It would mean a lot for bike travelers and would help boost local tourism economies. It would also provide eastern Washington residents with a wonderful outlet for safe exercise and recreation. And the overall spending to improve the trail would create jobs.
If you want to brush up on the issues, you can check out the state’s website for the John Wayne Pioneer Trail Planning.