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Outdoors blog

Ferry County officials angle toward ATV use on rail trail despite public vote

A Ferry County Commission meeting set for Monday appears to be another step toward allowing motorized vehicles on 25 miles of rail trail corridor that county voters have supported for biking, hiking, horse riding and other non-motorized use.

Commissioners led by Mike Blankenship apparently want to change the Ferry County Rail Corridor Management Plan Ordinance that spells out what can be done on the trail from Herron Road north of Republic, along Curlew Lake, through the town of Curlew and north to Canada, said Bobbi Weller, chair of the county’s seven-member Rail Corridor Committee. 

The meeting is set for 1 p.m. on Monday at the County Commission office, 290 E. Tessie Ave. in Republic. 

“They’re rewording the ordinance but they haven’t let the committee or the public see a complete draft,” Weller said, noting that about 150 trail supporters jammed the commission conference room earlier this year when Blankenship proposed eliminating the Rail Corridor Committee.

In 2009, residents in a county advisory ballot voted 61 percent to allow only nonmotorized use of the abandoned railway. “That was before we had on-the-ground examples of how good this trail could be,” said Bobby Whittaker of Ferry County Rail Trail Partners.

That voter support and the resulting ordinance paved the way for volunteer groups to obtain a $200,000 federal transportation enhancement grant to put a deck on the trestle across the north end of Curlew Lake.

FCRTP also secured two state grants totaling $270,000 for resurfacing 13 miles of the trail and installing two vault toilets, said Keith Bell, a retired mining company geologist who oversees the repaving project for the group.

Another $165,000 to complete the trail resurfacing has qualified for state Recreation and Conservation Office grants pending passage of a capital budget by the Washington Legislature, he said.

But county commissioners keep making small moves toward motorized use that would prevent qualifying for more rail trail grants, Whittaker said. 

“Combining motorized and nonmotorized simply wouldn’t be safe,” he said. “The most popular feature of rail trail developments across the country has been giving people, especially families, a recreation corridor separate from motorized vehicles,” he said.

“It’s like beating your head against a wall,” Weller said. “We’re sick and tired of it, but we’re not going to give it up.”

“The commission already is looking into an ATV connector route from Lundimo Meadows Road to Boulder Creek Road with no public input of any kind,” Bell said. “They’re trying to set precedents.

“To do what they’re doing, they have to disregard and ignore the language of the 2009 county advisory measure vote, which wasn’t a squeaker. It was 61 percent in a conservative rural county in favor of a non-motorized trail.”

Outdoors blog

Rich Landers writes and photographs stories and columns for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including Outdoors feature sections on Sunday and Thursday.

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