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Officials get earful on John Wayne Trail closure proposal

Supporters want to renovate the old trestle, pictured, as an attraction for recreational use on the John Wayne Trail.
Supporters want to renovate the old trestle, pictured, as an attraction for recreational use on the John Wayne Trail.

TRAILS -- It was weeds versus we the people at a special meeting Wednesday called in response to an under-the-public-view attempt to close a portion of the John Wayne rail trail that runs from the Columbia River to the Idaho state line at Tekoa, Washington.

Here's an update on the meeting at Tekoa moved by the Associated Press.

By Josh Babcock/Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Landowners, trail advocates and elected officials packed the Tekoa City Hall on Wednesday morning to express concerns regarding the recently proposed closure of part of the cross-state John Wayne Trail.

The meeting prompted 9th District Rep. Joe Schmick and Ted Blaszak, a Tekoa City Council member, to agree to create a six-person committee by the end of the week, which would consist of three landowners and three trail advocates to determine the best action for the trail.

"I’m not going to plan on introducing legislation to close the trail until we hear from this committee," Schmick said.

A provision to close the trail from the Columbia River to Malden was intended to be included in this year’s state Capital Budget, but an error caused the closure in the bill to read "Columbia River to Columbia River," instead.

Last week Schmick told the Daily News the proposal derived from the trail’s lack of use, noxious weeds, illegal dumping and other criminal activity and lack of improvements.

At Wednesday’s meeting, both state Reps. Mary Dye and Schmick were questioned by trail supporters, while adjacent landowners explained their concerns.

In several cases, members of the crowd interrupted Dye and Schmick as they tried to respond.

Blaszak, president of the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association, asked a series of questions regarding the future of the trail, private groups funding the trail, crime along the trail and why a public hearing was never held before the the trail’s closure was proposed.

Schmick reiterated his reasoning as to why he proposed to close the John Wayne Trail.

He said trespassing, theft, scavenging and using the trail as an access point to landowners’ property for hunting are what encouraged the initial proposal.

"These are real issues, now what are we going to do about them?" Schmick asked, more than once.

Dye was reluctant to answer any questions: "I wasn’t there at the time this was introduced, I wasn’t here when it was developed, I wasn’t here when the stakeholders were discussing the issues with the legislative body."

Fred Wagoner, 58, who traveled the entire trail this summer, brought in his pictures that he said showed the trail was in good condition from the Columbia River to Tekoa and some grass clippings were the only dumping he saw on the trip.

Martha Mullen agreed. She said she hiked the trail six times last year.

"I have never seen a hiker - or bike rider even - carrying a small appliance," Mullen said to laughter from the audience.

She apparently referred to a letter to the Daily News that said hikers only reported seeing appliances and shotgun shells littering the trail.

She said there was one spot outside Malden where trash was dumped, but it would take a vehicle to haul the garbage there, ruling out the possibility of trash being dumped by hikers and other trail users.

Branden Spencer, who said he was representing 75 different landowners and the Adams County Weed Control Board, said the trail cuts his property in half.

Spencer said that last year, and for the past five years, the State Parks Department didn’t spray any weeds along the trail due to lack of funding.

This year, Spencer said, trucks were allowed to travel on the trail and spray weeds in problem areas, but they only sprayed the weeds on the road deck, which left Spencer to do the rest of the space on each side of the trail, on his own time with his own money, as the weeds could overtake his property otherwise.

He said since the park ranger based in Washtucna retired, there is no legal oversight of much of the trail in eastern Washington.

If he needs law enforcement help, he said he has to notify rangers as far away as Spokane or Wenatchee.

With no parks supervision of trail users, Spence said, "We literally could be spreading weeds across Washington state much faster than the State Parks Department could ever have the budget to control them."

Nearly every landowner in attendance expressed concerns over spraying weeds on state land.

Spencer also noted landowners have recently been faced with responsibility to maintain the fences that line the trail, which were maintained by the state.

Spencer read his railroad deed from 1918 to the packed city hall, which stated that his property would be forfeited to him in the event the railroad is not used "for any one year after its construction."

Other landowners reiterated Spencer’s concerns, but also added rattlesnakes, dogs killing chickens, shot cows and horses, and cut fences to the long list of problems they encounter.

But Abijah Perkins, a landowner whose property does not abut the trail disagreed and said trespassing and dumping are issues that have to be dealt with by all property owners.

"If you own land there are going to be some of these issues, but you don’t take away the people’s park," Perkins said to boos from most other landowners in the room.

Perkins said Schmick’s "ignorance" on the issue was insulting to those who were in attendance who cared for the trail.

"On this issue you knew you were going to get questions; it’s really hard for us to understand you don’t have the answers," Perkins said.

Tekoa Mayor John Jaeger said he was also disappointed in the "lack of answers" from the legislators.

"We were hoping you would say what you thought, why you did what you did, and why you thought you needed to do what you did," Jaeger said.

He said members of the Spokane City Council have reached out to him in support of the John Wayne Trail, which is linked to the Fish Lake Trail, a project on which Spokane has spent more than $4 million and budgeted another $4 million.

Republican State Rep. Tom Dent, whose 13th Legislative District includes much of the trail, said he is in favor of the trail.

He asked everyone to come together and welcome Schmick’s idea of a committee so the concerns on each side are recognized.

"This closure is not going anywhere; it’s dead, it has to be reintroduced; now you have a great opportunity to work with the people who have the issues and fix it," Dent said.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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