By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Trail meeting turns out large crowd

And as expected, some took issue with elements of the proposal. In fact, Carlton Mayor Kathie Oriet said that was the main point of the outreach — to let neighbors air concerns.

The most outspoken of the critics was neighboring property owner David Feldman. He accused advocates of overstating the economic benefits and doing an inadequate job of notifying people like him who have a direct stake in the project.

Feldman said he’d only learned about the meeting four days in advance. “The least you could’ve done is sent out mailers,” he said.

Friends board member Ginger Williams responded by saying 350 personal invitations had been mailed to property owners along the right-of-way. “We made every attempt to reach out,” she said.

Feldman also told advocates he was frustrated to think tax money might be spent building and maintaining such a trail when local roads are in such bad shape. But Commissoner Allen Springer later said that’s not how grant money works.

Others in the audience reflected more curiosity than opposition. They asked about design, routing, hours and timelines. 

Some trail neighbors expressed concern that it might have a negative impact, making their properties more vulnerable to transients and troublemakers.

Trail supporter Jeff Lorton of Carlton responded by saying the opposite has occurred in other communities. Cleaning up and improving abandoned rail right of way, and encouraging regular use by recreationalists, served to enhance safety, he said.   

Several others attending the meeting also spoke in favor of the project. And when Feldman called for opponents to join him in a corner of the cafeteria afterward, he drew only one other neighbor

Watching as the crowd eventually began to thin out, Wayne Webke, who began advocating for the rails-to-trails project decades ago, and is now serving on the trail association board, said it was gratifying to see the vision he’s held for so long actually coming to life.

Webke and fellow advocates want to re-purpose an abandoned Union Pacific rail corridor, creating a trail to serve walkers, joggers, hikers, bikers and horseback riders. The trail would eventually run from McMinnville to Gaston, linking up along the way with the state highway bicycle trail to Forest Grove and Henry Hagg Lake.

Initially, plans called for eventually laying down of tracks again to permit restoration of freight and passenger rail service. However, Chad Olsen, Carlton’s city manager, said the group has been moving away from that idea, which would be far into the future anyway.

Oriet said she and Webke began advocating for the project in the early 1990s, after a young child was killed while walking along busy Highway 47 just outside Carlton city limits. She said the project got a big boost when civic leader and winemaker Ken Wright joined.

One of Wright’s key contributions was negotiating Union Pacific’s asking price from a daunting $9 million to a more manageable $2.4 million, based on a professional appraisal he and his wife, Karen, paid for personally. Another was their donation of three blocks of right of way that had come under their personal ownership when they acquired the old rail station.

Project supporters cleared another significant hurdle when they received a $1.4 million grant from the Oregon Transportation Commission — enough to pay for almost 13.5 miles of the 17 miles of Union Pacific right of way it is seeking.

Wright told audience members county commissioners were key in moving the project forward as well by supporting the project to the tune of agreeing to a local 10.27 percent grant match. He said the project was an absolute poster child for the criteria in the current alternative transportation funding stream.

“We’ve been talking about you guys and this day for over a year,” Lorton said. He went on to share his experience viewing first hand the development of the Galloping Goose Regional Trail in British Columbia and later the Banks-Vernonia State Trail in Oregon.

“The first thing that happens when something like this is created, is somebody builds a bike shop, the bed and breakfast industry picks up, someone starts a business organizing trail rides and tours,” Lorton said. “And, these are family businesses providing jobs for locals and young people. Bike shops need bike mechanics, right? That’s real. And that gets repeated.”

Lorton, who serves under contract as the county’s economic development director, said the Galloping Goose trail brings more than a $1 million to the greater British Columbia/Victoria area every year.

“Visitors and locals use these trails and accompanying businesses, but it’s the local people who make out,” he said. “The tourists come, they leave their money, and go. It’s low impact. And by and large, these are good people to have visiting your area. Bicyclists are great tourists, they stay an average of four nights, and spend $3,000.” 

“I know some people have concerns about having a trail in their backyard, but you know what happens? I hear this all the time, people will build fences at first, and then after awhile they put a gate in the fence so they can use the trail too.”

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