FOR THE RECORD (February 3, 1997): Correction: Nancy Mack was incorrectly identified in a Sunday story about a planned bicycle and pedestrian trail between Pullman and Moscow.
Separated by about eight miles of nothing more than the rolling Palouse, Pullman and Moscow have spent most of their history eying each other with distrust or disinterest.
Until the mid-1980s, it was a long distance phone call between them.
To the extent the communities acknowledged each other at all, the robust athletic rivalry between Washington State University and the University of Idaho might have been the model for all dealings.
For the past two decades, though, Moscow and Pullman have looked as much at what unites them as what divides them. The Ul and WSU aligned academic calendars and merged programs; the communities joined forces to build a new airport terminal.
This year another simple but enduring monument to unity will be built - a 12-foot-wide strip of asphalt along Paradise Creek from downtown Pullman to the Ul campus - the Bill Chipman Palouse Trail.
The Loser’s Walk tradition formerly defined relations between Pullman and Moscow. Students from the losing school trudged to the winner’s campus after a Cougar-Vandal football game. Life magazine once covered the event. In 1965, the Vandals won.
“I walked it when I was on rally squad and we lost to the U of I,” recalls Nancy Hack. More than 30 years later, she plans to repeat the journey this summer, on roller skates, as a winner.
Since 1985, when Hack dreamed of a place where her 6-year-old daughter could safely ride a bike, she and a determined band of civic activists have pushed to make their fellow citizens see the logic of a bicycle and pedestrian path joining Pullman and Moscow. Their patience finally overwhelmed the slowness with which local governments, property owners and railroads warmed to the notion.
“At times I’ve hated the project, I’ve wanted it to die,” says Hack, a conference coordinator at WSU. “But it was too good a project to die.”
The trail’s namesake typifies the idea that Pullman and Moscow really function as one community. Bill Chipman had friends across the Palouse. A UI graduate, he was a Pullman auto dealer whose children attend WSU. When he died last year, family and friends agreed the trail would be a fitting legacy.
“I’m grateful the Chipman family agreed to do it,” says Hack. “I am amazed at the way people are willing to give money in remembrance of Bill Chipman.” She estimates $150,000 of the nearly $297,000 in local money raised so far has been contributed in Chipman’s name.
The whole project will cost about $1.4 million. The largest contribution is a $900,000 federal grant to the Washington Department of Transportation (DOT) through the Intramodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. About $450,000 needs to be raised locally by June, says Hack. So while the DOT plans to build the trail this summer, fund raising continues.
But the target is in sight. For years, when Hack and members of the Pullman Civic Trust were doing workshops, speaking to service clubs, conducting surveys and badgering county commissions, the trail was just a dream.
Originally, several routes were considered. Over time, ideas of building the trail on a couple of county roads or making it part of the Pullman-Moscow Highway (Idaho State Route 8 and Washington State Route 270) were abandoned. The trail’s future was pinned to getting the Palouse River Railroad and Burlington Northern to consolidate operations on one of two sets of tracks between Moscow and Pullman and abandoning the other set so it could be converted to a trail.
“I got involved in every aspect of railroad life you can imagine,” says Hack. “Now I know about salvage values and abandonment processes.”
Everyone from Pullman grade school students, who produced drawings of the proposed trail for railroad executives, to WSU President Sam Smith, who wrote letters to state and railroad officials, had a hand in making the rail abandonment work.
Finally this year, after 16 versions of an agreement were negotiated, it came together. Burlington Northern abandoned its tracks. The Palouse River Railroad agreed to shift its operation to the BN tracks and abandon its own tracks along Paradise Creek, and Union Pacific, which formerly owned the Palouse River Railroad tracks, agreed that it no longer had a financial claim on Palouse River Railroad. The trail had a home.
It will largely parallel the Pullman-Moscow Highway and will be about 50 yards south of it along Paradise Creek. Much of the cost of the trail will involve constructing new rail sidings for an agricultural chemical plant and the WSU power plant so they’ll have access to the remaining railroad tracks.
The trail is not all sylvan. It will pass the Moscow sewage treatment plant, a chemical plant, a rock crushing operation and a grain elevator. But it also crosses Paradise Creek 17 times, and Hack can put a positive spin on the rest of it.
“Grain elevators?” she asks. “What goes on in grain elevators? I don’t know. I’ve always wondered. Where does the grain go? Farming is a big part of the history of the Palouse. Maybe we can put an interpretive sign on the trail by the elevator.”
That attitude kept her plugging away for nearly a dozen years while the trail slowly came to life. “It was like having a vision and trying to get the vision into other people’s heads,” she says. “Even if people want to stomp all over it, if you find a pocket of energy you get re-energized yourself.” So when the trail is at last built this year, she plans to reprise her rally squad trek from Pullman to Moscow and this time to enjoy the journey.
“I will definitely rollerblade it. I told the Department of Transportation ‘You have to make it smooth asphalt. For that price, you have to make it smooth.”’
Map: Proposed bike trail