Choosing a name for John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park

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Is it time to rename the popular bicycle touring trail that crosses most of the state of Washington from Rattlesnake Lake to the Idaho border?

The state says its considering changing the name of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail that runs through Iron Horse State Park and is asking the public to weigh in.

Members wagon and horse riders on John Wayne Pioneer Trail in 2014

The John Wayne name dates back more than 30 years, when the state legislature tackled the issue of whether to acquire the abandoned right-of-way of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.

A horse enthusiast named Chic Hollenbeck lobbied the legislature to acquire the more than 250-mile-long corridor. As founder of the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders (JWPWR) group, he saw the trail as an excellent means for long-distance travel in the state.

Travel by wagon train evoked the memory of cowboy actor John Wayne for Hollenbeck and the group’s members. After the state acquired the abandoned railroad property, it was named John Wayne Pioneer Trail in response to the group’s advocacy. Iron Horse State Park was adopted as the surrounding park’s name. The group still makes cross-state pilgrimages on the trail.

Cyclists and rock climbers on John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Cascades

Now the state says name causes confusion between the western and eastern sections of trail. The section west of the Columbia River is known as the Iron Horse Park State Trail, maintains the state parks department’s trail coordinator Randy Kline. The eastern section is known as John Wayne Pioneer Trail.

In a press release, Kline says:

“Determining one name for the trail will help eliminate confusion. Also, giving the trail one meaningful name will highlight its significance as one of the longest cross-state trails in the country.”

Kline told a meeting of state parks board members that the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and Iron Horse State Park names were a form of compromise. “It was a way for those who wanted to see this turn into a trail get the attention of legislators, of users, because they saw the John Wayne name symbolized the West.”

Using the name to memorialize a person doesn’t meet the state’s policy of naming trails for “geographic locations, cultural history, events and places, geologic features, or relevant botanic or biological references.”

Last year, the JWPWR group opposed the idea of a name change. Tracing the history of the trail, JWPWR member Andy Neault wrote:

“The name that eventually stuck was The John Wayne Pioneer Trail. The reason was simple – name recognition and association. We loved the idea of being able to ride long distances, to head east and ride out of the mountains, cross the Columbia, and ride in the desert. We wanted to see the wheat fields and the Palouse hills from horseback. We wanted to get to know the people working the fields, herding the ranches, and picking the fruit and vegetables. Here was a place that felt western, remote, secure, and welcoming. John Wayne could have ridden here and John Ford could have directed his western movies here.”

Old railroad cut on John Wayne Pioneer Trail east of Ellensburg

I’ve got to admit that using the John Wayne Pioneer Trail name kind of stuck in my throat the first few times, but I’ve gotten use to the name over the years. It’s listed by that name on maps, books, and websites and has been in use for years.

Some of the trail names suggested by the state staff are no better:

  • Cascalouse State Park Trail (a contraction of the Cascade and Palouse geographic areas)
  • Columbian State Park Trail (a named passenger train that operated on the trail)
  • Cross Washington State Park Trail (descriptive trail name)
  • Iron Horse State Park Trail (current name of this State Park trail acknowledging the trail as a former railway)
  • Milwaukee Road State Park Trail (name of the railroad that operated on the trail)
  • Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail (geographic description of the trail route)
  • Trail of the Olympian State Park Trail (name used to describe the route from Chicago to the Puget Sound)

Iron Horse State Park sign at Hyak trailhead

Of all of these, I guess I like Milwaukee Road State Park Trail the best, that recalls the informal name — Milwaukee Road — of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.

Trail names with “Iron Horse” are used elsewhere in the U.S., and Cascalouse sounds like the name of a parasitic insect you might find burrowed in your bicycle shorts. Cascade-Palouse State Park Trail sounds better to me.

Give your own trail name ideas to Washington State Parks at the Name That Trail website. You can post your suggestions at the comment button at the bottom of the page.

John Wayne Pioneer Trail closure. — Traillink base map

Today, the John Wayne Pioneer Trail runs for 224 miles from Cedar Falls in the west to the Idaho border in the east. The sections from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River and from Lind to the Idaho border are managed by the Washington State Parks. The section between the Columbia River and Lind is under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Natural Resources and is currently closed due to inability to fund maintenance.


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  1. Salish Trail State Park

    • Patrick on April 17, 2018 at 7:42 pm
    • Reply

    As someone not from the region, and someone who was researching visiting this area to ride the trail, it was a bit confusing with regard to the terminology.

    I would suggest using a descriptive name that identifies it as a single long-distance, cross-state route. That to me would be best from a tourism angle. Sections of the trail could further be subdivided into more interesting names that speak to relevance to area culture, features, etc.

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