Eastern Washington Republican legislators once again are throwing a monkey wrench into the state park’s department plans to improve the eastern half of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail between the Columbia River and Idaho border.
The rail-trail stretches from North Bend to the Idaho border, and at 285 miles is one of the longest in the nation.
Why Senator Mark Schoesler and Rep. Joseph Schmick, among others, want to deny constituents in their districts the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors on a rail-trail that’s already bought and paid for is beyond me.
Schoesler is attempting to block funding for trail improvements in state budget proposals in Olympia, and Schmick tried to turn over the trail to adjacent landowners 2 years ago. That scheme fell victim to the “miraculous typo.”
Unlike the renovated 110-mile section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail between the Columbia River and North Bend, the eastern section has languished in much the same condition as when the state acquired it from the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in 1980.
An overwhelming majority of residents in a series of meetings last year told state park planners that they support making improvements to the old rail bed in eastern Washington. See the Iron Horse State Park Trail’s Recommendations Report based on those meetings.
That convinced the state parks to propose an ambitious plan to upgrade the eastern segment of trail. Gov. Jay Inslee’s capital plan called for spending $9.8 million on the trail over the next 5 or 6 years.
State Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, submitted SB 5853 to fund improvements to parks — such as the Iron Horse State Park which houses the trail — over the next 10 years.
When that bill came out, Senate majority leader Schoesler replaced it with a supplemental bill in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. It prohibits money from the Rossi bill from going to two eastern Washington trails:
“Proceeds from these bonds may not be used for any expenditures to any part of the cross-state trail east of the Columbia river known by the names of the Milwaukie Road corridor, John Wayne trail or iron horse trail, or for the Columbia Plateau trail south of the Turnbull national wildlife refuge where the scablands nature trail and the Columbia Plateau trail meet and north of the Snake river junction trailhead.” [Spelling and grammar as it appears in the bill.]
It’s just mind boggling. Schoesler is OK with spending money for parks, just not a nationally renown cross-state trail in his own back yard.
[Update: March 31 — The Colfax Gazette reported, after interviewing Schoesler, that his move was about setting priorities. He told the newspaper that state parks like Palouse Falls, Lyons Ferry and Steptoe Butte in the ninth district already attract far more visitors of all ages and interests than the trail.
“It’s misleading to suggest that setting priorities about using bond money is defunding,” Schoesler said. …. “The John Wayne Trail will be in the running for funding from other sources.”]
Meanwhile, the Republican-backed Senate budget proposal has cut two John Wayne Pioneer Trail projects from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, one of those “other sources” of funding. Cut from the budget is $1.45 million for decking and railing on the Tekoa Trestle and $1.05 million for trail improvements from Malden to Rosalia. The only project to survive is $1.2 million for decking and railing on the Renslow Trestle, which crosses I-90 just east of Ellensburg.
Ted Blaszak is a city councilman from Tekoa, which sits on the trail, and he’s president of Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association. One of the trail’s strongest supporters, he recently posted online that Democratic Sen. Andy Billig of Spokane told him:
“Democrats in the House and Senate will continue to push back on this and other provisions of the bill. Still, Sen. Schoesler seems to have an unusually strong interest in opposing the John Wayne Trail and, as Majority Leader, his influence is considerable.”
Saving the trail
The Friends of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail say it’s time to contact our legislators to ensure that all the funding is approved to improve the trail.
You can tell your legislator that you oppose Schoesler’s supplemental bill at https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill//5838. At the same time, you can say that you’re in favor of the original parks funding bill.
Further, you can contact your legislators at http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/ and tell them that you support all the efforts to improve the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.
Here’s a sample letter provided by the Friends of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.