TRAILS -- How do you treat a group that's revived a dead rural railroad into a nationally recognized rail trail by attracting hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal grants and countless hours of volunteer effort?
In Ferry County, apparently, you kick them in the butt.
The commissioners led by Mike Blankenship made an unscheduled surprise proposal on May 1 to dissolve the Rail Corridor Committee that oversees the project to develop the 25 miles of Ferry County Rail Trail that runs from a few miles north of Republic all the way to the U.S.-Canada border.
"We are in shock," said Bobby Whittaker, chairman of the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners, the nonprofit group that helped broker the deal to assume the abandoned railway in 2008. "The RCC is one of the most successful all volunteer committees in the history of the county."
The proposal also would do away with the county's Motorized Trail and Recreation Committee and then create a new 11-member Ferry County Recreation Trail Committee that would have one -- just one -- member dedicated to nonmotorized recreation.
A hearing for public comments on the proposals has been set for Monday, May 22, starting at 1 p.m. at the commission office, 290 E. Tessie Ave. in Republic.
Blankenship is an advocate of ATVs and other motorized recreational vehicles and has resisted efforts to create a single world-class nonmotorized route through one of the most sparsely populated counties in the state, including along scenic Curlew Lake and the Kettle River.
"After 61 percent of voters indicated a preference for non-motorized use of the trail on the Nov. 3, 2009 general election ballot, commissioners designated the rail trail from Herron Creek Road north to the Danville Bridge as “multi-use non-motorized only,” changed the original RTC’s name to “Ferry County Rail Corridor Committee” and tasked it with making recommendations to the board for future management of the non-motorized trail," reports the Ferry County View.
But Blankenship wants a group with broader interests.
The commissioner said he wants to limit participation by the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners, which have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars and considerable community involvement for trail development.
Rail Corridor Committee members said they have been responsible for obtaining a two-year planning grant through the National Park Service to develop a rail trail plan, and for securing grants that revamped the Curlew Lake trestle for pedestrian and bicycle use and funded trail resurfacing along Curlew Lake and north of Curlew along the Kettle River.
But the Ferry County Commission has frowned on these efforts and has actually scuttled other opportunities for funding.
Apparently there's a notion down the road that turning over a narrow rail-trail to high-speed motorized vehicles such as ATVs and motorcycles and mixing them with kids on bikes and families with fishing poles and leashed dogs might be a good, safe idea.
“In the month of May alone, the commissioners have stopped two of the Rail Corridor Committee’s grant applications," Whittaker told The Spokesman-Review. The Phase 4 grant application, which hinges on a non-motorized corridor favored by Curlew schools and many trail-associated residents, was tabled by the commissioners two weeks ago and remains in limbo.
"The commissioners are going in for the kill on our state grant and trying to break our volunteer groups and grant writer in the process," Whittaker said. "If they don’t sign our state grant the money will go to the next partially funded project on the state list."
Whittaker said losing the grant will cost Ferry County construction jobs and tourist dollars.
“They have shown total disregard for the community-developed Rail Trail Plan, 10 years of public comment and volunteer work. It all may be erased at next Monday’s commissioners’ meeting with the flick of a wrist," he told the Ferry County View.
“Let me just say the Rail Corridor Committee has worked tirelessly for years to bring recreational tourism to Ferry County and has consistently exceeded expectations developing what has become known as Eastern Washington’s best rail trail. The RCC should be allowed to work unimpeded; I look forward to seeing everyone at the meeting,” Whittaker told the View.