Trail of the Month: November 2006
Oregon's Banks-Vernonia State Trail
In the rural, virtually untouched corner of northwest Oregon's coast range, the remnants of the Spokane-Portland-Seattle Railroad remain a part of the Banks-Vernonia State Trail.
The 21-mile trail was the first rail-trail in Oregon and is located only 50 minutes from Portland. In the 1920s, the railroad was used to haul lumber from the Oregon-American Mill in Vernonia and passengers from the ghost town of Keasey, to Portland. The Mill closed in 1957 and the railroad closed with it. The Vernonia South Park and Sunset Railroad leased the railbed in 1960 and operated a steam excursion train for five years. Oregon Parks and Recreation gained official ownership of the right-of-way in 1990.
The trail is accessible from several trailheads between Banks and Vernonia: Manning, Buxton, Topill and Beavercreek. The Manning trailhead provides the best parking at the southern end as does Vernonia at the northern end. Vaulted toilets are available at Buxton, Tophill and Beavercreek trailheads.
Beginning in Banks, the first four miles are paved. It is an easy expedition for kids. The trail turns to gravel just after the Manning Trailhead, but returns to asphalt one mile later. Another mile later, at the Buxton Trailhead, it becomes gravel again and remains gravel for seven miles. Those with thin road tires may find the graveled sections unsuitable. At the county line, between the Tophill and Beavercreek trailheads, the trail returns to asphalt for the eight-mile ride into Vernonia. Bike, equestrian and pedestrian traffic along the trail is usually very light; it is a pleasant, solitary ride.
As the trail meanders through rural towns and along miles of farmland north of Banks, riders enjoy panoramic views of the coast range foothills. The crisp air and the smell of dew and evergreen brings a welcome clarity to the senses. Near the Buxton trailhead, the trail runs past the eagerly anticipated Stub Stewart State Park; the new 1,700-acre park and campground is scheduled to open in spring 2007.
The trail ambles over 12 bridges, exposing the gentle babbling of Dairy Creek, Beaver Creek and the Nehalem River below. It winds beneath canopies of dense greenery, but just south of the Beavercreek Trailhead the trail momentarily breaks into the sunlight for a ride through a horse farm. The most spectacular man-made contributions to the scenery are two imposing trestles, relics of the railroad's heyday. The Buxton Trestle and the Horseshoe Trestle are each 80 feet high and more than 600 feet long. The Horseshoe Trestle was half-destroyed by fire, but the Buxton Trestle is still in one piece, though not accessible. Take the time to picnic at the Tophill or Buxton Trailheads and admire these feats of engineering.
The trail is almost completely flat, except for where it detours around the trestles. The trail drops dramatically into the Buxton Trailhead area to maneuver around the Buxton Trestle and climbs steeply again to reach the railroad grade. It does the same at the Tophill Trailhead area to circumnavigate the Horseshoe Trestle. There, the trail crosses the Nehalem Highway. Beware, car traffic is sparse, but fast.
After the Beavercreek Trailhead, the trail emerges from the woods and hugs the highway for the ride into Vernonia. Downtown Vernonia offers shops and galleries and peach smoothies for refreshment on hot days.
The Banks-Vernonia State Trail officially ends at Anderson Park, just blocks from downtown Vernonia, but the pavement continues for a couple more miles to Mill Pond/Vernonia Lake. Parking at Vernonia Lake requires a small fee.
Thanks to Katie Bruhn, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy intern, for contributing November's Trail of the Month. Katie is a native Oregonian and rates the Banks-Vernonia State Trail among her favorite ways to relax with family and friends.
Another thanks to Katie's father Rande Bruhn and her brother Matt for making the special effort to ride and photograph the Banks-Vernonia State Trail for this Trail of the Month.