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John Wayne Trail gets vote of confidence from State Parks panel

Pat Sprute, left, and Chip Andrus of Spokane cycle on the abandoned railway called the John Wayne Trail near Rosalia. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Pat Sprute, left, and Chip Andrus of Spokane cycle on the abandoned railway called the John Wayne Trail near Rosalia. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

TRAILS -- Development of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail was backed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission last week.

The citizen panel adopted policy to move ahead with developing the cross-state trail system along abandoned railways. 

Meeting in Clarkston, the commission also approved land classifications and long-term boundaries for the Iron Horse State Park Trail between the Columbia River and Malden in Eastern Washington.

The Iron Horse State Park segment from the Columbia to the Idaho border was acquired from the Milwaukee Railroad and named the John Wayne Pioneer Trail by the Washington Legislature in the early 1980s but has never been developed.

The actions followed months of working group meetings and public meetings for a John Wayne Iron Horse State Park Trail Plan to address issues such as noxious weeds, vegetation management and trespass and fencing concerns expressed by property owners who live and work adjacent to the trail.

The plan identifies needed support facilities, including trailheads, bridge and trestle repairs and future camping opportunities.

A 12-member advisory committee was appointed late last year to advise park staff in the planning. The committee includes adjacent landowners, hikers and equestrians, as well as representatives of tourism bureaus and heritage organizations.

The advisory committee met five times in Moses Lake between December 2015 and late June 2016, and State Parks additionally held four public meetings in Cheney, Ellensburg, Preston and Ritzville to gather public feedback for the plan.

The plan considers acquiring or developing agreements to manage existing gaps in land ownership, including about 4 miles of private property and 40 miles managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The 2006 Washington Legislature directed State Parks to manage the portion of trail east of Lind. 

One element of the plan will have State Parks working with the advisory committee to settle on a new trail name that is broadly recognizable and establishes a marketable identity for the trail. Currently the trail is called by two names—John Wayne Pioneer Trail and Iron Horse State Park Trail.

"The resolution adopted by the Commission highlights State Parks’ commitment to long-term development and operation of Washington’s cross-state trail system, including completing development on the entire length of the Iron Horse State Park Trail Corridor between Rattlesnake Lake and the Idaho border and highlighting the importance of connecting to a national network of long-distance rails trails," State Parks officials said in a statement.

“All over the country, trails like these provide significant health, tourism and economic benefits,” said Commission Chair Steve Milner of Chelan. “We look forward to more effectively responding to the interests of both adjacent landowners and the recreating public.

"My reading is that rural economies want the trail as a tourism and economic development tool. Recreation users want to experience the natural and cultural history of Eastern Washington. And trail neighbors want the trail corridor to be kept free of noxious weeds, safe from trespassers and managed in a manner that doesn’t impede the agricultural activities on their land.  I think we can be successful on all fronts by working together.”

About the Iron Horse State Park Trail

Iron Horse State Park Trail parallels I-90, running 287 miles along the defunct trestles, rail beds and tunnels of the Old Chicago Milwaukee Saint Paul and Pacific railroads. The trail starts just east of North Bend and runs east to the Idaho border. About 110 miles of trail on the west end have been improved for use by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians. The terrain varies from the evergreen forests and subalpine lakes of the western Cascades, to the shrub steppes and channeled scablands of eastern Washington. The corridor was acquired by the state of Washington in 1981.

In 2006, the State Legislature directed State Parks to manage the portion of the trail that lies east of Lind.

The Iron Horse trail is part of a developing statewide network of Washington rail trails that also includes the Columbia Plateau Trail, Spokane Centennial Trail and Klickitat Trail in Eastern Washington and the Willapa Hills Trail in Southwest Washington.

The state’s cross-state trail system is part of the national trails movement. According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, more than 21,000 miles of rail trails are used by tens of millions of Americans each year.

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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