This past summer I spent several weeks researching and visiting the newly minted Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail for an article that appeared this fall on the cover of the Rails to Trails Conservancy magazine.
Although I didn’t have a chance to ride the trail end-to-end, working on the article gave me an opportunity to visit the section east of the Columbia River. Everything I’d heard that segment is true — very rough and remote with jaw-dropping beautiful scenery.
Forget the impressions of the eastern Washington landscape you get from buzzing along I-90. The arid scab lands marked by buttes and far-off horizons are wonderful to behold from a bicycle saddle.
The other thing I took away from my travels and research is that many people are working very hard to make this a destination trail.
Dating back to the 1980s, the John Wayne Pioneer Wagon and Riders Association has been working to preserve the 285-mile abandoned railroad corridor that runs roughly from North Bend to the Idaho border near Tekoa. Now they’ve been joined by the Palouse to Cascades Trail Coalition. Both groups are working with legislators, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, the State Parks Department as well as the Department of Natural Resources to make the trail more accessible to users.
The trail will see a flurry of activity over the next two years to complete several gaps. The reopening of the old railroad bridge across the Columbia River at Beverly is probably the most noteworthy project.
Here’s a rundown from the Washington State Parks and Recreation Department:
Renslow Trestle Decking and Railings (this is the trestle the crosses I-90 just east of Ellensburg and Kittias) – $1.2 million: Complete June 30, 2020.
Beverly Bridge Decking and Railings – $5 million: Complete June 1, 2021
Malden to Rosalia Trestles, Surfacing and Trailhead – $1.8 million: Complete June 30, 2021
Tekoa Trestle Decking and Railings – $1.7 million: Complete June 30, 2021
Also, 23 road signs will be installed to direct travelers to the state park trail, which was formerly known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail at Iron Horse State Park. The parks department simplified the name to Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail a couple of years ago.
These improvements should make the trail more accessible and draw more bicycle travelers to the towns of Tekoa, Rosalia, Malden, Lind, and Beverly in eastern Washington.
There will still be plenty of work to upgrade the trail surface for bicycle travelers. The trail is the western-most piece of the Great American Rail Trail and will likely see an uptick in traffic from hikers, bikers and equestrians making the cross-country journey.