John Wayne Pioneer Trail reopens for bicycling east of Ellensburg

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It took a full-fledged military action, but a 22-mile stretch of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail reopened last weekend after being closed for at least 8 months.

Old railroad cut in Yakima Training Center

Old railroad cut in Yakima Training Center

The section of trail (see map below), part of the longest rail-trail in the US, was closed in July after the Saddleback Mountain wildland fire swept through the remote area between Ellensburg and the Columbia River.

The fire destroyed six 100-year-old timber-supported trestles that once carried tracks of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad.

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail crosses the state for 253 miles between North Bend and the Idaho border. West of the Columbia River, the trail is operated as the Iron Horse Trail State Park, although the eastern-most section runs through the Army’s Yakima Training Center.

Dry climate preserves railroad ties in the soil at Yakima Training Center

Dry climate preserves railroad ties in the soil at Yakima Training Center

Usually the trail through Yakima Training Center is open to mountain bikers, horsemen, and hikers. But the Army closed access in July after the 22,000 acre fire swept through the arid landscape.

The Yakima Herald Republican says the Army reported about a $1 million in damage to the trail, but they were able to save money for repairs by using soldiers and military equipment to do the work.

The damaged trestles were broken down and hauled away. Earthen dams were built over the streams and gullies to support the trail.

Native vegetation was planted to prevent erosion.

The trail through the Army base is sandy. Visitors have to sign in at the trailheads at Army West (I-90 exit 115) or Army East (a few miles south of I-90 exit 136 on Huntzinger Road).

On previous visits there, I’ve found the landscape to be bare of any vegetation except the occasional sagebrush and spring wildflower. The trail follows a steady grade uphill from the Columbia River, and west-bound mountain cyclists are often met by stiff headwinds.

The re-opening of the trail comes just in time for the annual cross-state ride by the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association. The group meets travels the rail-trail from May 21 to June 7 this year, heading from east to west. I had an interesting ride with them for a few miles last year.

Reopened trail

Reopened trail


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  1. I rode the newly constructed trail a couple weeks ago. (Didn’t know it was closed at the time – oops!) The first five miles from Army West going east are an uphill sand pit. Once you get going on the downhill portion, bicyclists benefit from the work done by the army, because their vehicles have packed down the trail. Yay!

    If anyone is planning on riding this, try to get there before the horses. Their hooves tend to chew up the trail and make it unridable.

    Also, if you are tempted to ride through the Boylston Tunnel, instead of taking the ride around, it’s doable. The trail east of the tunnel is a swamp, though. Bring waders ;-)

  2. Thanks for the insight. I can imagine the horses and wagons would do a number on that surface….

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