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Trail idea has regional appeal

Recreationists, nature lovers, historians and safety advocates in the area might want to take a look at the accelerating plans to create a scenic trail that would link the communities of Gaston, Yamhill and Carlton.

The more we learn about this trail proposal, the more we like it. A group known as Friends of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail has been working for the past couple years to create a trail for hikers, bikers and horseback riders along a segment of an old railroad corridor that was abandoned and removed in the 1980s.

For the record, the intriguing, unusual name of the trail taps into the history of the area: “Yamhelas” is the name of the Native Americans who once populated the area, while “Westsider” reflects the route’s railroad heritage as the old railroad right of way where the trail would go was built along the west side of the Willamette Valley. The proposed trail would stretch for about 17 miles, from an envisioned trailhead adjacent to Southwest Scoggins Valley Road to Gun Club Road, which is roughly five miles north of McMinnville.

The trail ends there, because south of Gun Club Road the railroad tracks are still in place and still in use.

Trail proponents bill the trail as “17 miles in the heart of Oregon Wine Country,” and that marketing theme ties in very well with the area’s booming wine industry. Indeed, Carlton businessman Ken Wright, whose Ken Wright Cellars tasting room is located directly next to the abandoned railroad corridor, plans to donate some of his land to help make the trail a reality because he sees the economic development potential of the increased tourism this trail could bring — tourism that could boost his business as well as that of other area wineries and merchants in Yamhill County as well as in Washington County.

Further, there is a highly appealing regional element to this project. Trail proponents see the Yamhelas Westsider Trail eventually connecting with the Banks-Vernonia State Trail and, presumably, the proposed “Salmonberry Corridor” being planned for the former railroad route between Banks and Tillamook.

The Yamhelas Westsider Trail traverses wonderful natural areas and expansive farmlands. It would skirt the edges of the Wapato Lake Wildlife Refuge south of Gaston and, at its northernmost starting point at Scoggins Valley Road, would provide a natural gateway to the bike trail around Henry Hagg Lake.

Another key benefit of the path is that it would enhance safety for pedestrians and bicyclists who would have a much saner alternative to riding or walking along busy, winding Highway 47, which roughly parallels the trail. Trail proponents say the seeds of the current trail plan were planted after a 1990s accident in which a child on a bike was hit by a car and killed while riding from Carlton to Yamhill. Partly for safety considerations, the Yamhill Carlton School District has endorsed the trail concept, because many youngsters from Carlton go to school in Yamhill. With a handy trail, some of those kids could walk or ride their bikes to get to school activities on a safe path instead of along a fast-paced highway.

There is a long list of supporters for the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, including Washington County and Yamhill County officials, the Washington County Visitors Association, Metro, Oregon State Parks and the Oregon Department of Transportation, among others.

This is an interesting project, and it’s even better because initial funding to create the trail is coming via a $1.4 million grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

With startup funding on the way and strong levels of support from many quarters — and with the potential this trail has to link to other trails in Hillsboro, Banks, Forest Grove and elsewhere around Washington County in years to come — we believe this is a positive and valuable endeavor that deserves support.

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