Public process will continue until late September

The planning process for a proposed 86-mile trail to the Oregon Coast appeared to hit a higher gear last week. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Representatives from Oregon State Parks met with about 65 area residents at the Banks Fire Hall Wednesday evening to discuss the latest draft routing plans for a proposed 86-mile trail that would link Banks with Tillamook on the Oregon coast. Citizens looked over maps with a variety of options. Planners anticipate dividing parts of the out-of-service railroad corridor into one of three categories: rail-to-trail; rail-with-trail; and a bypass (for problematic trail sections).

With public hearings expected to end in September, state officials met with about 65 area residents at the Banks Fire Hall June 25 to discuss the latest ideas for a trail linking Banks and Tillamook. The proposed “Salmonberry Corridor” trail would be built in or along a railroad corridor that was heavily damaged in a 2007 storm. After the storm, the costs to repair the line — which operated out of Hillsboro primarily to serve shippers in Tillamook and Garibaldi — were deemed too costly to justify. Now, the route is envisioned as a place for bikes, hikes and horseback riding instead of trains.

Last week’s meeting was geared toward finalizing possible alternatives for building a trail in the Salmonberry Corridor. Citizens looked over maps with a variety of options, as planners anticipate dividing parts of the railroad corridor into one of three categories: rail-to-trail; rail-with-trail; and a bypass, for problematic trail sections.

“We’re here to look at alternatives,” Rocky Houston, state trails coordinator for Oregon State Parks, told the group at the beginning of the meeting. “There are still many unknowns as we move forward, but we are getting better and better at honing in on alternatives.”

Houston said the trail would serve many uses.

“This would be a multi-use, non-motorized trail,” said Houston.

Houston pointed out, for example, that the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad holds a lease to operate on 42 miles of the route in Tillamook County. The segment from Tillamook to Enright is expected to remain active with excursion trains.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), whose district includes much of the corridor, said public input is vital in building a workable plan.

“There are some big pieces to figure out,” Johnson said. “For example, where would the trail stop and start? It makes sense to consider starting and stopping at Stub Stewart State Park. I think we’re working through some of the issues.”

The public process regarding a possible trail in the old rail corridor began in earnest in September 2013, and Johnson said public involvement has gone a long way toward clearing up misconceptions.

“The rumor that hunting was going to be banned was quickly refuted,” Johnson pointed out. “No one is going to ban hunting. Just use good hunter etiquette and common sense. Don’t fire across the trail, or from the trail. It’s valuable that we’re working through these issues in a completely appropriate way.”

However, some area residents are concerned about the impacts of turning the corridor where trains once ran into a trail that will attract an unknown number of hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

“As landowners, we feel we are going to be affected daily by this decision and that Oregon State Parks is not listening to us,” said John Hamel, who lives near Buxton. “They have meetings and let us talk, but they are on their own agenda.”

Hamel said he wants private property to be respected.

“Just a couple weeks ago I witnessed someone camping on private property and having a campfire without permission,” Hamel said. “We are afraid that with the trail it will just increase the number of these cases. Betsy Johnson has been contacted by more than one of us, and I know I did not get a response and to my knowledge others have not either.

“She is supposed to represent us in her area, but it appears she is more concerned with pushing her own agenda.”

Houston said Hamel’s concerns highlight the reason for public involvement.

“You can’t just change the way a piece of land is used without considering all the possible side-effects,” Houston said. “It may seem like there’s a lot of time being spent gathering feedback and planning things out, but it’s absolutely necessary. The success of any new trail depends on how thoroughly we listen and respond.”

Johnson said she believes a trail into the rugged Salmonberry Corridor could be magnificent, and pledged to work to find a consensus on the best way forward.

“I continue to support the idea of a trail that will have international interest, but we’re still in the public process to refine the alignment,” Johnson said. “I’ll be heavily involved to ensure we have something that works for folks, that respects private property rights and is something folks can rally around. That’s the whole point of the public process.”

Hamel questioned the wisdom of building and maintaining an 86-mile trail through mountainous terrain where slides and washouts are not uncommon.

“There is the concern every Oregonian should have: the cost,” Hamel said. “Our schools are crowded and our roads and bridges are falling apart, but we can find the time and money to spend on an unnecessary project like this.”

Hamel noted that there has not yet been a final price tag on the envisioned trail.

“There should be some pressure put on the state to publicize how much this will cost all Oregon taxpayers in the long run,” Hamel said. “The advantages they tell us do not seem worth the cost.”

The Salmonberry Corridor concept is being developed as a partnership of the Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon State Parks and the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad, the entity that owns the rail corridor between Banks and Tillamook.

Houston said there would be a final round of meetings on the proposed trail in September, with one meeting in Tillamook and another in Banks. State officials said a trail proposal is expected to be finalized by Thanksgiving.

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