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Rail-to-trail project near Gaston wins $1.4 million

A small-town coalition in Yamhill County and western Washington County beat out 144 other proposals from across Oregon to win $1.4 million that will set the stage for a new trail between McMinnville and Scoggins Valley Road north of Gaston.

Announced last week, the Transportation Alternatives Program grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation was the second largest among the 11 awarded to proposals selected from an initial field of 155 applicants.

It was also the first grant the Friends of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail ever applied for.

And — perhaps a bit surprisingly to Gaston’s 650 residents — it was the second time in a week that a government agency invested $1 million-plus on a project that will affect the city, with the first being Metro’s $1.2 million purchase on March 15 of wildlife habitat in the hills east of town.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Gaston resident Lyell Gardner, who serves as president of the 30-member Friends. “Ours is a really good project.”

The 725 comments on the project — with 80 percent support — helped blow away the competition when ODOT solicited input on nine mid-Willamette Valley proposals. The Yamhelas project got far more response and support than any of the other eight.

The money will help turn 17 miles of overgrown former railroad right-of-way into an outdoor oasis for runners, walkers, bikers and equestrians.

The Friends wanted to buy the stretch before the railroad sold it off in chunks, making it nearly impossible to reconstruct.

Sheila Lyons of ODOT said that’s partly why the pathway made the cut. It would be a “missed opportunity” if the land weren’t available by the next round of grants.

It also helped that Yamhill County promised a 10.27 percent match from lottery funds, bringing the project’s total funding to about $1.55 million.

The complete trail corridor, going all the way down to McMinnville, is about 60 feet wide and will cost approximately $2.4 million, a significant decrease from the once-estimated $9 million price tag.

Ken Wright — Yamhill County resident, Friends treasurer and local vineyard owner — has been trying to secure the property for more than a decade and a half, but it wasn’t until the Friends formed last year that it started coming together.

Wright bought about three blocks of the land in 2003, intending to donate it to the trail when the opportunity came.

“The time is right,” said Carlton mayor and Friends secretary Kathie Oriet.

Oriet said the committee will discuss fundraising for the rest of the corridor — Carlton to McMinnville — at its next meeting, as well as trail construction costs.

Individuals, contractors and pavers have volunteered their services in advance, Wright said.

Trail boosters envision the Yamhelas Trail eventually connecting with those in the works farther north, such as the proposed Council Creek Trail and Forest Grove loop trail.

“These are exciting times in trail planning in the local area and region,” said Forest Grove Parks and Recreation Director Tom Gamble. “It is clear that walking/biking/hiking are high priority recreational activities for western Washington County. This grant for the Westsider Trail is very encouraging.”