State parks commission adopts cross-state trail plan

OLYMPIA — The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Thursday adopted a resolution and policy supporting the continued development of Washington’s cross-state trail system. The Commission also approved land classifications and long-term boundaries for the Iron Horse State Park Trail between the Columbia River and Malden in Eastern Washington.

Former railroad tunnel on the Iron Horse State Park Trail. Credit: Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Former railroad tunnel on the Iron Horse State Park Trail. Credit: Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

The resolution, policy and plan were adopted at the Commission’s regular meeting in Clarkston. The actions follow months of public process initiated by State Parks to address such issues as noxious weeds, vegetation management and trespass and fencing concerns expressed by property owners who live and work adjacent to the trail. The plan identifies needed support facilities, including trailheads, bridge and trestle repairs and future camping opportunities.

A 12-member advisory committee was appointed late last year to advise park staff in the planning effort. The committee comprised adjacent landowners, hikers and equestrians, as well as representatives of tourism bureaus and heritage organizations. The advisory committee met five times in Moses Lake between December 2015 and late June 2016, and State Parks additionally held four public meetings in Cheney, Ellensburg, Preston and Ritzville to gather public feedback for the plan.

The plan considers acquiring or developing agreements to manage existing gaps in land ownership, including about 4 miles of private property and 40 miles managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. In 2006, the State Legislature directed State Parks to manage the portion of trail east of Lind.  As an outcome of the plan, State Parks will work with the advisory committee to settle on a new trail name that is broadly recognizable and establishes a marketable identity for the trail. Currently the trail is called by two names—John Wayne Pioneer Trail and Iron Horse State Park Trail.

The resolution highlights State Parks’ commitment to long-term development and operation of Washington’s cross-state trail system, including completing development on the entire length of the Iron Horse State Park Trail Corridor between Rattlesnake Lake and the Idaho border and highlighting the importance of connecting to a national network of long-distance rail trails.

“All over the country, trails like these provide significant health, tourism and economic benefits,” said Commission Chair Steve Milner of Chelan. “We look forward to more effectively responding to the interests of both adjacent landowners and the recreating public. My reading is that rural economies want the trail as a tourism and economic development tool. Recreation users want to experience the natural and cultural history of Eastern Washington. And trail neighbors want the trail corridor to be kept free of noxious weeds, safe from trespassers and managed in a manner that doesn’t impede the agricultural activities on their land.  I think we can be successful on all fronts by working together.”

– Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission