Update from the West: The John Wayne Trail Is Safe—for Now

Posted 01/22/16 by Laura Cohen in Taking Action, Policy

John Wayne Pioneer Trail | Photo courtesy TrailLink.com/Washington State DNR - Southeast Region

You may be aware that longest rail-trail in the U.S. has been under fire lately, but we’ve got good news—at least for now—for John Wayne Pioneer Trail supporters. The John Wayne will not lose a vital 130-mile section of corridor that was under threat of closure. 

John Wayne Pioneer Trail Tekoa Trestle | Photo courtesy AlbertaScrambler | CC by 2.0

To recap: The John Wayne follows the corridor of the old Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad—also known as the Milwaukee Road—from Rattle Snake Lake in North Bend in the west to the Washington-Idaho border north of Tekoa. People around the country know and love this spectacularly remote and rugged gem of the trail world, which offers a diverse set of landscapes, from the rolling hills of the Palouse region to the Cascade Mountains, across its 253 miles.

In the fall of 2015, Washington State District 9 Reps. Mary Dye and Joe Schmick announced their intent to introduce legislation in January 2016 to close a 130-mile section of the John Wayne—covering 6,000 acres between Malden and the Columbia River—and give the state-owned corridor to the adjacent landowners, citing maintenance concerns by local residents.

Cuts in the state budget over the past six years have made upkeep difficult on the eastern section of the John Wayne—which is the only cross-state trail in Washington and has served as a valued recreation amenity and tourism engine for decades. A 2012 study by the Outdoor Industry Association found that outdoor recreation in the state resulted in $22.5 billion in consumer expenditures, produced 227,000 jobs and generated $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenues.

To explore the glory of the John Wayne Trail for yourself, check out this beautifully crafted video by Wojcik Films

Local trail advocates, led by the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association (TTTA) mobilized to stop the closure of the John Wayne, which included public meetings and the passage of 14 city resolutions asking the state legislature to fund, rather than close, the trail. Rep. Schmick and the state parks and recreation commission also formed an advisory committee of stakeholders—including landowners, advocates (such as Washington Bikes) and trail users—to study the issue and make recommendations later this year.

Recently, RTC learned that Rep. Schmick, after hearing strong support for the trail at the public meetings, has decided not to pursue his effort to close the John Wayne and will await the recommendations of the state parks advisory committee. This is great news for Washington and for the national trail community, who have grown to love this American landmark trail.

While the advisory committee process is underway, District 9 legislators have decided to take no legislative action this year to support increased maintenance and improvements to the John Wayne—or to remove the current state-mandated requirement that individuals receive a special permit before accessing the trail. So the fight for the John Wayne is not quite over, and RTC will continue to monitor the situation and keep our members and supporters informed and engaged as we move forward.

To learn how you can get involved in efforts to help advocate for the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, check out the Tekoa Trail and Trestle website.

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