CHEHALIS, Wash. — Washington State Parks officials say they will negotiate with farmers to hold down fees for using long-distance recreation trails.
The assurances came Dec. 19 at a meeting in Chehalis, where about 50 people attended a meeting to comment on State Parks’ proposal to charge farmers to drive equipment on the trails.
State Parks also held a meeting Dec. 17 in Ellensburg to gather comments before sending a final proposal to the Parks and Recreation Commission in late January.
All motorized vehicles, including farm equipment, are currently barred from the more than 500 miles of long-distance trails around the state.
State Parks policy director Daniel Farber said the agency hopes to adopt a statewide rule flexible enough to accommodate individual landowners.
“We don’t expect there to be dozens and dozens of these things. We expect a few,” Farber said.
Afterward, Lewis County Farm Bureau President Ron Averill said the meeting’s tone differed from what the department put on paper.
“It was more encouraging than what I saw in the regulations,” he said. “I think that there’s a lot of work to do.”
The five trails were once railroad rights of way, which in some places split farmers’ property. After rail companies abandoned the lines, the tracks were removed and replaced by paths for hikers, cyclists, skiers and equestrians.
State Parks officials say about a dozen farmers have asked to use the trails to reach their fields. State lawmakers asked the department to write a policy to handle those requests.
The Washington Farm Bureau says it appreciates the state is working on a policy to permit farmers to use the trails but criticizes what the agency came up with as “exorbitantly bureaucratic.”
“We are alarmed that Sate Parks has continued down a path of alienating farmers and landowners,” the bureau’s associate director of governmental relations, Scott Dilley, wrote in a letter to State Parks dated Dec. 16. “We urge you to move in a completely different direction.”
The proposed policy would place numerous restrictions on permit holders. The fees would include a $200 application fee and a separate “processing fee” of at least $300 and maybe several times higher. The actual annual “use fee” could be as much as $3,000 per mile.
The policy states the permit could be canceled if other trail users complain.
Dilley says the state shouldn’t charge farmers to use the trails.
“Often, they are the people whose land was taken for use by railroads and now by trails. No administrative charges are necessary to allow these local landowners access their own property.” Dilley wrote.
State Parks staff members say farmers could get discounts by driving only light vehicles on the trail and agreeing to other restrictions, such as not using trails on weekends. A farmer who used less than a mile would not be charged for the entire mile, officials said.
State Parks has received more than 200 written comments, including many from people who say they don’t want farm equipment on the trails.
In Chehalis, where the Willapa Hills Trail begins and heads west across farmland, the proposed policy got a mostly negative reception for being too restrictive on farmers.
Some said it was easier to work with the railroad than State Parks.
Averill said the proposed policy showed too little appreciation for farmers.
“Our farms are in trouble. Most of them don’t make a lot of money. We need to help them out,” Averill said.
The long-distance trails are the John Wayne Pioneer Trail between Cedar Falls and the Columbia River; Willapa Hills Trail between Chehalis and Raymond; Columbia Plateau Trail between near Cheney and near the Tri-Cities; Klickitat Trail from Lyle north and east 30 miles; and Spokane Centennial Trail between Spokane and the Idaho border.