An Eastern Washington lawmaker will co-host three meetings on what to do about a public trail that crosses farms and ranches and reportedly leads to mischief.
“People use this trail as a point of entry to private property. There’s theft. There’s dumping. There’s noxious weeds. There’s no maintenance or management,” said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax.
The John Wayne Pioneer Trail crosses the state east-to-west on the former Milwaukee Road railroad route. The state acquired the route in 1981 from the bankrupt railroad and fended off legal challenges from adjacent property owners who argued the land should have reverted to them.
Hikers, cyclists and equestrians use the 250-mile trail, but landowners say the eastern-most 130 miles between the Columbia River and Idaho are poorly maintained, lightly traveled and often misused.
“What it does is create a corridor for trespassers,” said Whitman County rancher Jay Allert, who has 2 miles of the trail dissecting his ranch. Trespassers have stolen, vandalized and littered, said Allert, who has left a refrigerator where it was dumped by the trail.
“I leave it as a sign of what you get,” he said.
The 30-year aggravation worsened this year when the Washington Department of Parks and Recreation adopted a policy to charge farmers and ranchers hundreds of dollars to use the trail to move farm equipment.
Schmick nearly succeeded in closing the trail with a 2015 budget proviso. The provision won’t take effect because it erroneously described another trail.
Allert said Schmick’s proposal was a compromise. The state reserved the right to reopen the trail if it were improved. “We’re not satisfied with that, but at least it takes care of the immediate problem,” he said.
The threat of closure has caused a backlash among groups and individuals from Seattle to Tekoa, a small town at the east end of the trail. The Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association, which advocates keeping the trail open, will co-host the meetings with Schmick.
The group’s president, Ted Blaszak, said he doubts the trail can be quietly closed now. “The cat’s out of the bag,” he said.
The trail is popular with cyclists, horseback riders, Boy Scouts and geologists, Blaszak said. Rather than close the trail, the state should spend more to control noxious weeds and maintain fences, and enlist volunteers to pick up litter, he said.
Blaszak called fees to move farm equipment on the trail “stupid” and said they should be eliminated.
“We respect the landowners and want to make it better for them, not worse,” he said. “We think that through properly funding the trail we can deter a lot of the problems.”
Allert said he’s skeptical developing the trail will prevent mischief. “It seems there’s something about human nature that can’t resist the temptation to go on someone else’s land,” he said.
Schmick is noncommittal about whether he will try again to close the trail. “We’ll hear from everyone at the meetings,” he said.
The meetings will be noon Nov. 10 at the Rosalia Community Center, noon Nov. 16 at the Union Elevator conference room in Lind and 6 p.m. Nov. 23 at the Hal Holmes Center in Ellensburg.