By editorial board • 

Trail decision a detriment to parks system needing vision

Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla captured our reaction to the fierce, expensive and ultimately successful Yamhelas Westsider Trail opposition almost perfectly in a post-decision post.

“It truly amazes me,” he said, “that there is so much passion about whether or not to allow people to walk and cycle on an abandoned railroad grade that travels along farmland.” Indeed. Amazes and confounds.

All across our state and nation, civic-minded visionaries have been working with local jurisdictions to transform abandoned railroad right-of-way into multi-use recreational trails.

It amounts to recycling on a grand and glorious scale. And it has created some priceless scenic, recreational and, yes, economic, assets.

While adjacent landowners inevitably voice fears about various kinds of encroachment — sometimes even in the strident, almost apocalyptic tones marking the heated local opposition — those concerns have almost universally evaporated once successful trails open for use.

The benefit for the community as a whole is virtually undeniable.

The local trail would wind west along a scenic, pastoral 17-mile Union Pacific railbed from St. Joseph, just northwest of McMinnville, to Gaston, straddling the border between Yamhill and Washington counties. It would provide easy access to Hagg Lake, a mecca for hiking, biking, boating and fishing, and similar trails to the north leading on up into the Portland Metropolitan Area.

The Yamhill County economy is heavily dependent on tourism, and the trail would give it a big job-generating shot in the arm. It would draw Portlanders and out-of-state visitors into the heart of Oregon Wine Country, where they would, no doubt, drop significant sums on food, drink, lodging and spinoff enterprises like bike rentals.

In our opinion, buttressed by expert analysis and a deep reservoir of experience elsewhere, the trail would have little if any negative impact on farming. Ill-effects that did arise could readily be dealt with here as they have elsewhere, we believe.

Like tourism, agriculture is one of our economic mainstays. And no one — certainly not longtime farm advocates like us or longtime farmers like Kulla — would support a project actually threatening the hand that feeds us.

Opposing Commissioners Mary Starrett and Lindsey Berschauer are both conservative Republicans, which has led some in the community to view this as a ideological debate grounded in individual rights, free enterprise and freedom from the heavy hand of government intrusion.

However, the leading trail proponent from the outset has been conservative Republican Ken Wright. And it was ardently and consistently supported by a cadre of conservative Republican county commissioners — Leslie Lewis, Kathy George, Allen Springer and Stan Primozich by turn.

The trail cannot be legitimately viewed as a partisan political or ideological issue, no matter how hard Starrett and Berschauer may sometimes make it seem so. Ever since 1996, the county has been committed to pursue “conversion of abandoned rail lines through the federal Rails to Trails program and seek to integrate these abandoned lines into the county’s trail/bikeway system.”

Kulla presented one possible path forward — putting to voters a measure to create and fund a county park district and transfer the abandoned rail line from county to park district ownership.

While we believe a majority of county residents would be in favor of a trail if it were put to a vote, we’re not confident the creation of a new taxing district to push the trail agenda is the right path.

What we do know is that the Yamhill County parks system is lacking. Outside of Rogers Landing, county-owned parks offer little more than stops on the side of the road.

The Yamhelas Westsider Trail plan provided a vision for a regionally-celebrated recreation destination. That foresight, like the rails, has been abandoned.



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