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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Say so long (maybe) to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail

Chip Andrus, left, and Pat Sprute of Spokane cycle through a deep cut on the abandoned railway called the John Wayne Trail near Rosalia. The Washington Parks Department is considering renaming the trail. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Chip Andrus, left, and Pat Sprute of Spokane cycle through a deep cut on the abandoned railway called the John Wayne Trail near Rosalia. The Washington Parks Department is considering renaming the trail. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Well, pilgrim, it looks like the John Wayne Pioneer Trail is gonna be a-ridin’ off into the sunset.

The Duke’s name is set to be rounded up and cut out of the name of that little piece of God’s Green Earth that stretches from the Columbia River to the Idaho border, sorta like an old steer gettin’ cut from the herd on a long cattle drive and fed to the wranglers.

Folks in the big city – that is, Olympia – think it’s too dang confusin’ for tenderfoots lookin’ for a way to hike or bike or gallop their mustang across the state, what with the part of the trail on the other side of the river called the Iron Horse State Park Trail. The whole shebang should all have just one name, they said.

So these Parks Department folks came up with a list of names that fits with all-a them other trails around the state, the ones named for places or historic events or culturally important stuff or the plants or critters ya might see while you’re out a-walkin’ on ’em.

Under those rules, the Duke doesn’t qualify, even if he did pretty much win the West and World War II practically single-handed.

They came up with some names they think folks’ll like better:

Cascalouse State Park Trail. A combination of Cascade and Palouse, they said. Like that’s not confusin’ to nobody.

Columbian State Park Trail. Name of an old passenger train that used to run there, they said. Like folks’ll remember that.

Cross Washington State Park Trail. Descriptive, they said. Pretty plain, too.

Iron Horse State Park Trail. Current name of one-half of the trail, they said. Guess the other half is old horse pucky.

Milwaukee Road State Park Trail. Name of the railroad that used to be there, they said. They coulda used that all along.

Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail. Another descriptive name, they said. Well, at least it’s not Paluscades.

So they’re askin’ for any comments ya might have on those names. Or maybe you’ve got a better one. Just go on that there interweb to the state Parks Department site, and click your mousie on the news item about changin’ the trail name. Or call 360-902-8632 before 5 p.m. May 4.

Just don’t suggest namin’ it after the Duke, ’cause that horse is already outta the barn and the Parks Commission is a-comin’ to Spokane on May 17 to take a gander at new trail names.

Alright, then. Not sure how my John Wayne impression works in print but some readers are probably thankful I’m not doing radio.

The Legislature named the stretch of the Old Milwaukee Railroad from Tekoa to the river the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in 1985, although it wasn’t directly because of the actor. It was a salute to the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders group, which pushed to get the state to take over the old right-of-way. The other half, from the river to North Bend, is generally called the Iron Horse State Park Trail, and the section from Beverly to Lind is sometimes called the Milwaukee Road Corridor by the Department of Natural Resources, which is in charge of that stretch.

Back in the ’80s, the group sold the name as something that would be acceptable to Eastern Washington, said Tom Short, a member of the group. It wasn’t done to honor the person, whose real name was Marion Morrison, but the persona of many characters he played under his stage name.

“How could you be against John Wayne?” Short said. Wayne had died by then, but they got the approval from his family and the Legislature said OK.

The organization, which hosts a cross-state trail ride every year, isn’t real happy about the proposed change but they’ve known it was coming for a couple of years and are “pretty much resigned to the fact,” Short said.

Everybody knew who John Wayne was 33 years ago, he said. Now, not so much.

Some who do remember him don’t remember him so fondly, which is part of the reason that Short is careful to draw the distinction between the actor and the roles he played. Wayne has been denounced as a racist based on an interview he gave to Playboy magazine in 1971 in which he made disparaging remarks about African Americans and Native Americans. Some have called him a misogynist for scenes in which he whacked Maureen O’Hara on her fanny in “The Quiet Man” and “McLintock!” Plus there’s his membership in ultraconservative groups like the John Birch Society that rankles more than a few liberals.

It echoes opposition that surfaced in 2016 when California was considering a resolution to declare his birthday John Wayne Day.

Plus he never set foot in Eastern Washington, as far as anyone knows.

Even the Friends of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail support the name change. President Robert Yates said while Wayne still represents American exceptionalism and pioneer spirit to people in their 60s and 70s like him, that’s not the case for those in their teens and 20s.

Yates said he can’t imagine anyone would refuse to use the trail because of its name, but he does see the proposed change as a good marketing move that gives the entire 285-mile trail a single, unique and descriptive name. “We want what’s best for the trail,” he said.

Short agreed and supports the Palouse to Cascades Trail, even though most trail users generally travel west to east because of the prevailing winds. All the other names aren’t descriptive of the geographic location, which is one of the criteria the state likes to use.

The Parks Commission will get one or more staff recommendations at its May meeting in Spokane on a name for the entire trail, said Randy Kline, the statewide trail coordinator. They can make a decision then or study it. It’s possible they keep things the same, although the department has been looking at the renaming since 2016.

If the commission settles on a name, it’ll take a year or so to phase in the change with new signs and brochures.

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