Legislature floats bill calling for trail plan

by: COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY MUSEUM - Just before the 90-mile route from Hillsboro to Tillamook opened in 1911, laborers armed with shovels arrived to clear a slide along the railroad line. The historic route may soon be turned into a trail. There appeared to be a slight but noticeable change in focus last week as Oregon State Parks conducted a second round of public hearings on the idea of building a trail from Banks to the coast. Rather than simply discussing a possibility, there seemed to be a tone of certainty about a proposal to turn 86 miles of a railroad corridor that has been out of service for several years into an active trail for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

The Oregon Parks & Recreation Department has been conducting assessments on what is being called the “Salmonberry Corridor” to understand “opportunities and constraints” involved in developing a trail that would stretch from Banks in Washington County to Tillamook in Tillamook County, crossing the Coast Range on the way. Last week’s public meetings in Tillamook and Banks were geared to update citizens on the concept.

In an evening meeting at the Banks Fire Hall, Rocky Houston, state trails coordinator for Oregon State Parks, presented initial findings and discussed the status of a plan for recreational uses along the corridor.

Houston indicated the conceptualization process was on a relatively fast track.

“Our kickoff meeting was in September, and now we’re at phase two,” Houston said. “The next step comes in July. We will review alternatives, and in September there will be a final draft plan.”

Houston said the state hopes to adopt the master plan for the proposed trail in November.

The railroad line, owned by the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad, was knocked out of commission in December 2007 when flooding and mudslides hit the area. The price tag to fix the route, which had been in use since 1911, was too much for the railroad’s owners to justify.

“It was $60 million to rebuild the line,” Houston said. “It was not considered worth the massive investment.”by: COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY - This map shows the Salmonberry Corridor, which is proposed to be turned into a trail. The corridor follows a railroad line that has been effectively out of service since 2007.

During last week’s presentation, Houston, who showed slides of some of the damage to the rail line in the flooding, revealed that a bicycle advocacy group called Cycle Oregon had provided a $100,000 grant for the state to study the trail.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson, who represents parts of Washington County and Tillamook County, said she is supportive of the trail idea but wants to be sure the public is given ample opportunities to give their opinions.

“These kinds of planning exercises take forever, and we’re intentionally trying to be very inclusive in hearing people’s concerns,” Johnson said.

About 50 people attended, including many who had been at the meeting last fall.

Skeptics at the Banks meeting were not swayed by Houston’s contention the meetings were designed to hear the perspectives of local citizens.

“You’re still wasting time and money on this,” said one trail opponent. “There’s a difference between hearing and listening.”

But even the Legislature appears to be getting on board with the trail proposal.

Senate Bill 1516, currently under consideration in Salem, specifically requires development of a plan for a trail in the Salmonberry Corridor.

“There is no money in the bill. It’s primarily a planning bill,” said Johnson. “It establishes legislative intent, saying, ‘go forth and plan.’ It’s a legislative statement saying ‘yes, we think this is a good project.’ And yes, I’m very supportive of it.”

Johnson added that she expects SB 1516 to be approved soon.

“I do expect it to move this session,” she said.

Houston said studies show that a trail to the coast would increase tourism, bring in a different clientele to spend money locally, and spawn new businesses.

“Where there is a trail in place, new development occurs,” said Houston.

Further, a trail could increase public safety by removing bicyclists from the highways to the coast.

But some property owners along the corridor said they did not want to lose the privacy and seclusion that brought them to the area.

“I came to Banks to get away from this crap,” said one speaker at the meeting.

Houston said the trail to the coast would be a critical connection to link trails in the Portland metro area with trails along the coast.

“Our goal for the next couple of weeks is to start getting feedback and review concepts and assessments,” Houston said.

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