Because of a wording error, the John Wayne Pioneer Trail remains the country’s longest rail-to-trail corridor – running 230 miles from King County to the Idaho state line.
And trail users see this as a chance to keep it that way.
The state established the recreation trail in the 1980s along the old route of the Milwaukee Railroad. Outdoorsman Chic Hollenbeck lobbied for the name because he loved John Wayne and his movies, like El Dorado.
The trail starts in North Bend and ends in Tekoa, a small town on the Idaho state line.
“It’s a very big part of our identity and our economy,” said Ted Blaszak, a Tekoa City Council member. “The Boy Scouts of America do a cross state bike ride, and it’s used by lots of hikers and bikers along the way.”
He says he was shocked in September when he learned that two-thirds of it was going to be closed.
During the last legislative session, Reps. Joe Schmick and Mary Dyer pushed through a provision letting landowners take ownership of that section.
Schmick said he acted because the state hasn’t had money to maintain the trail.
“The weeds have not been taken care of, the fences are a wreck, to keep animals, and, you know, people on the trail,” Schmick said. “Trespassing is another big issue from the landowners.”
But Schmick hit a roadblock: The bill’s description of the trail didn’t match up with the actual trail.
He planned to fix the wording in the next legislative session, but until then he agreed to host three public meetings with Blaszak. The last is Monday in Ellensburg.
Those meetings have given landowners and trail users a chance to share concerns.
Blaszak wants eastern Washington lawmakers to allocate money for it.
“For the last 35 years the western portion of the trail has been funded incrementally by the representatives who it runs through their district, but here … they have always been opposed to this trail,” Blaszak said.
Schmick says he’s not anti-trail.
“We need to decide what we’re going to do with it, can we afford to take care of it … and how’s the best way to do that,” he said.