Railroad bed at Nature Park provides cost-effective link in growing trail system

by: JAIME VALDEZ - When a proposed connector trail between the Westside and Waterhouse trail system is completed, more pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to experience wildlife scenes such as this deer jumping over a fence near the Tualatin Hills Nature Park last week.Right now, it’s little more than a steep bank, a stark stretch of abandoned railroad line, and a wooden trestle overgrown with brush and briers.

By the middle of 2014, the 1,600-lineal feet of pathway just north of the Tualatin Hills Nature Park on Millikan Way will provide an attractive and crucial east-west link in a contiguous north-south trail system coursing through the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District.

“It’s not a long link, but it’s an essential one-third of a mile,” said park district spokesman Bob Wayt, surveying the proposed Westside to Waterhouse Trail Connection on a recent drizzly afternoon.

The park district Board of Directors approved a master plan for the connection at its Nov. 5 meeting.

The plan will extend the paved Westside Trail, which currently terminates at the wetlands-oriented Nature Park, northwest to the proposed Waterhouse Trail beginning on the west side of Southwest 158th Avenue. From there, a series of northward trail projects slated to begin in early 2013 and conclude within the year will help complete a system Wayt describes as a 10-mile “backbone” trail through the district.

“When those projects are done, the southern half of the backbone — from the Nature Park to Barrows Road — will be complete,” he said. “The ultimate plan, essentially, is to have one complete 10-mile trail between PCC Rock Creek (campus) and the Barrows Road. The ability to walk, bike or run for significant stretches will add more value as a commuting option.”

In addition to keeping a likely busy, paved, 10-foot-wide commuter trail out of the Nature Park’s meandering trails through ecologically sensitive wetlands, the Westside-Waterhouse connection — funded through the $100 million bond measure voters supported in 2008 — will also save money. Through collaboration with the Oregon Department of Transportation, TriMet and the Portland and Western Railroad for the access rights, the project’s total cost estimate is reduced from $1.5 million to about $900, JAIME VALDEZ - Rene Brucker, park planner with the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, shows the route of the new Westside to Waterhouse Trail Connector. The link will follow a park district easement along a former Portland & Western Railroad bed near Tualatin Hills Nature Park on Southwest Millikan Way.

“We’re going to save money on this project by moving the trail up to the railroad bed,” said Rene Brucker, park planner for the district. “It’s pretty exciting because (the railroad) has been willing to work with us. Otherwise, the costs would skyrocket, and the Nature Park would have environmental issues to work through.”

Brucker and other park district staffers have been planning for the link since 2008.

“The whole point was to continue beyond the Nature Park,” she said, pointing out where the paved Westside Trail peters out near the edge of the park’s wooded area.

The abandoned Portland and Western Railroad grade, which parallels TriMet’s light-rail tracks to the north, creates a gravel-bedded, straight-lined pathway from the park toward 158th Avenue. A bridge will be constructed to provide a gradual transition from the Westside Trail in the park up to the railroad bed, while the structurally sound trestle over Cedar Mill Creek will be cleaned up and improved to district safety standards.

“It should be a pretty quick build,” Brucker said of the connector project. “We won’t have to worry about wet conditions because it’s up on the railroad bed.”

When the project is concluded sometime in 2014, the years of research and negotiations it took to create the plan will become apparent.

“It’s pretty much a direct route,” she said. “Connecting this with the Waterhouse Trail, this is a key link.”

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