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Columbia County key piece in Portland-Pacifi c trail

Planners consider continuous trail from Forest Park to the Pacific Ocean

Connecting the 17-mile Crown Zellerbach trail between Scappoose and Vernonia to a larger trail network extending from Portland to the Pacific Ocean is a more palpable reality as local and regional planners take up the cause.

Jim Thayer, an international business expert and current principal of Resilience Consulting, has spent several years flushing out trail possibilities that would make a continuous forested link from Portland's Forest Park to the Oregon Coast. At times the connections were easy. For others, he had to bushwhack his way through thick underbrush en route to a theoretical junction.

Thayer estimates he has hiked between 1,200 and 1,500 miles in the quest to establish the approximately 130-mile journey from cityscape to ocean vista.

'It's been basically [hiking] one day a week without fail,' Thayer said of his decade spent in the woods. He had even published a 190-page book, called 'Portland Forest Hikes: Twenty Close-In Wilderness Walks,' that describes and maps the many hiking sections accessible off of Highway 30. But this exercise goes farther and further.

In fact, the concept of such trails goes back to the 1980s and Keith Hay, who proposed the Pacific Greenway, a theoretical city-to-coast link proposed to the Friends of Forest Park. And in 1992 a study identified three potential routes, but they had never been fully explored.

Columbia County officials, who heard Thayer discuss the trail concept at a Metro Quarterly Trail Forum meeting in February, are intrigued by the concept of a Portland-to-coast trail system and what that system could offer toward raising the county's profile.

'I think it means people coming to the county and discovering its beauty, and maybe deciding it's a great place to bring their business and their employees and raise their families,' said Columbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde.

He said the possibility for eco-tourists, those with 'fanny packs full of money,' who swing through the county and stop at convenience stores for supplies or grab a burger after a long day on the trail is equally attractive.

Link established

Thayer's efforts have not been fruitless. 'There is actually a whole series of trails, end-to-end that comprise a route all the way,' he said. He has two routes - the Northern Route to Seaside and the Southern Route to Nehalem Bay - fully mapped, both of which employ the Crown Zellerbach Trail as an integral section.

Here's largely how it works, if heading from Portland: Northwest through Forest Park, along Agency Creek, through Holbrook along a power line easement, into Longview Fiber forestland near Wildwood Golf Course, north to Buck Mountain (behind Dutch Canyon) and then connect to the Crown Zellerbach Trail after dropping down Cater Hill.

Once Crown Zellerbach Trail is reached, it's a simple matter of connecting to the Banks- Vernonia Trail and, from there, either heading northwest along the Nehalem Valley and Saddle Mountain corridors, or southwest along the wild Salmonberry Corridor, which incorporates the Port of Tillamook Bay-owned rail line that was washed out in the 2007 floods.

'It's as dramatic as all get out,' Thayer said.

Each of the proposed routes represents a similar mish-mash of private and public land, presenting a distinct challenge for Thayer.

Timber companies, such as Longview Fiber out of Longview, Wash, control much of the private property. As Thayer points out, timber companies in the 1860s recognized it was not possible to lock up the forests to keep the public out.

Instead, the companies adopted recreational use policies under a legal construct to permit limited access for hunting and fi shing.

'Of course, it doesn't preclude hiking or recreational access as long as you're not using motorized vehicles,' Thayer said.

But encouraging even more recreational use on those lands, as Thayer is doing, hasn't always been easy.

'It's been a delicate dance,' he said. For instance, timber companies typically forbid signage on their property, making it difficult to delineate trailheads and directional routes on the ground. Allowing outside-sourced signage opens the timber companies to liability, which they would of course like to avoid.

One possible path around the sign prohibition would be to develop trail apps for smart phones, Thayer said, that could be downloaded as a virtual map of individual trails or trail systems.

'I've been spending my last years wearing out shoe leather,' Thayer said. 'The next part is wearing out my mouse pad.'