Would you like to see the eastern section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail upgraded to fulfill its promise as a top-notch draw for bicycle tourists traveling across the state of Washington?
Then you’ll want to attend one of three public comment meetings scheduled this month. If you can’t give your thoughts in person, you can send an email to JWTcomments@gmail.com.The meeting schedule is:
Rosalia — Noon, Tuesday, Nov. 10th
Community Center (7th St. and Whitman Ave.)
Lind — Noon, Monday, Nov. 16th
Union Elevator Conference Room (201 S street)
Ellensburg — 6 p.m., Monday, November 23rd
Hal Holmes Center (209 N Ruby St.)
These public meetings are the result of a failed attempt by an eastern Washington legislator to railroad an item through the state budget that called for turning over 130 miles of trail between the Columbia River and the town of Malden to adjacent private landowners. [See opinion piece by Ted Blaszak at Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association.]
Fortunately, someone misworded the budget addendum and the state couldn’t act on the provision. [See: “Wording error saved John Wayne Pioneer Trail.“]
The state legislator, Republican Rep. Joe Schmick fully intended to reintroduce the measure in Olympia next year, until Ted Blaszak and the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association got wind of his plan and encouraged him to attend a meeting (the first ever held on the scheme) at which it was roundly opposed. Subsequently, Schmick agreed to form a citizens committee of trail advocates and adjacent landowners to help decide the trail’s future. [See: “Citizens committee will study future of John Wayne Pioneer Trail in eastern Washington.”]
The committee is holding a series of meetings this month to get ideas on what can be done with the trail. Schmick and the landowners have mentioned trespassing and dumping as a issue on the remote strip of state land formerly owned by the Chicago, St. Paul, Milwaukee and Pacific Railroad.
At 253 miles, the trail is the longest rail-trail conversion in the U.S. It runs from the Cedar Falls Trailhead at Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend to the Idaho border at Tekoa.
The roughly 23 mile stretch between the Hyak and Cedar Falls trailheads is the most heavily used, as it’s the closest to Seattle and includes passage through the 2.3-mile long Snoqualmie Tunnel. Bicycles can easily manage the 110 miles from Cedar Falls trailhead to the Columbia River.
The railroad trestle across the river at Beverly is closed, however, and the trail is poorly maintained east of there. In fact, some parts haven’t been upgraded since the railroad abandoned the corridor. Which is not to say the trail isn’t worth visiting.
It runs through a beautiful, remote part of the state. Adventurous bicyclists who struggle through there say the trip is very rewarding. The John Wayne Pioneer Horse and Wagon Association makes an annual pilgrimage on the trail across the state from just east of the Snoqualmie Tunnel to the Idaho border.
“It is also one of the very few places where you can see the scab lands, a terrain so rare geologically it exist only by the John Wayne Trail and on the planet Mars. Young Washington geologists travel to the trail every year for their training. And rich with the cultural heritage of our state. Just this past weekend the Ralston Grange restored an old rail way station that is on the trail.”
So maybe this failed scheme to close a long section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail will result in it getting the attention it deserves. The trail could truly become a cross-state corridor for bicycle travelers, and the small towns along the way could reap the benefits of tourist traffic.
But we just need to make sure that Rep. Schmick knows that his constituents, and residents around the state, want to save the trail, not turn it over to private landowners.