Local Perspective: Yamhill County citizens, you can defeat a giant

This is a story about how Yamhill County citizens, like the biblical David, can come to overpower a giant.

The question: Why are city and county officials viciously opposed to a simple walking bridge that would allow Newberg residents to access 11 acres of Chehalem Park and Recreation District land at Ewing Young Park?

The answer: Because approval of the footbridge might lead to approval of other bridges and trails in Yamhill County. And big money — the giant in this story — is adamantly opposed to one trail in particular: the Yamhelas Westsider Trail winding west from McMinnville.

In 1991, the three Yamhill County commissioners in office at the time wholeheartedly supported the idea of converting abandoned rail right-of-way into a multi-use trail setting out from near the old Yamhill-Carlton Pioneer Memorial Cemetery.

Locals supported it. It was believed the 17-mile Yamhelas Westsider Trail would encourage tourism and boost commerce.

After all, rail-to-trail projects exist all over the United States. There are 23 in Oregon alone.

A local winemaker donated $16,000 to the cause. And in 2013, the state awarded the county a $1.5 million grant for the project.

Construction between the towns of Carlton and Yamhill began in 2020, with a bridge outside Yamhill.

But more than two dozen farmers — some with property alongside the right of way, others 20 miles away — had concerns. They said the trail could affect how they farm and what they can spray.

For details, see “How a Trail in Rural Oregon Became a Target of Far-Right Extremism,” from the July 2021 edition of the Colorado-based High Country News.

The farmers believed it would encourage trespassers and maybe attract tent encampments for unhoused people. They said land use laws mean farmers shouldn’t have to change, no matter what the community wants.

By January 2021, Yamhill County commissioners were majority anti-trail. Newly elected Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer joined one of the project’s loudest opponents, Chair Mary Starrett.

Berschauer moved to withdraw the land use application for the trail, effectively killing the project. And Starrett joined in support, even though it meant halting nearly completed bridge construction and returning $1.5 million to the state.

Casey Kulla, the third commissioner at the time, cautioned against the reversal, to no avail.

“We can move forward with this in a way that honors everybody in our community,” he said. “As a farmer, I respect them just as much as anybody else,” he said of the opposing farm interests.

This was the polar opposite of what thousands of Yamhill County citizens wanted. In June 2021, an online petition in the trail’s favor garned more than 3,200 signatures, suggesting broad support.

What happened? Enter big money.

It is widely known that one source of big money in Yamhill County politics is the George family, which owns and operates one of the largest hazelnut processing companies in the country.

Political action committees controlled by or primarily funded by the George family spent more than $35,000 in the May election this year, according to a May 12 News-Register article, “Shell game: How the hazelnut-heavy George family is dominating elections spending in Yamhill County.”

Last year, $29,393 in George money went into opposing Berschauer’s recall from office, according to the article, while $5,166 went to re-electing Starrett. The Oregon Family Farm Association PAC, one of the main funding vehicles, also received $140,000 from Stimson Lumber — a company with a history of close association with Berschauer.

So, the Georges funnel loads of money into helping elect Newberg and Yamhill County candidates.

There’s nothing wrong with that. They may donate to any candidates they please.

Where it becomes very wrong is when candidates represent only the big money that helped get them elected and blatantly ignore the wishes of the citizen majority.

Newly elected Chehalem Park and Rec board members Jason Fields and Matt Smith are perfect examples.

According to the “Shell Game” article, some of the George money in the May election went to supporting Fields and Smith. And it is already paying off handsomely for the Georges.

At a board meeting preceding the election, Fields snarled to longtime district superintendent Don Clements:

“I’m telling you, Don, the moment we get elected and sworn in, that bridge idea is dead, OK? I want to be clear about that. That bridge idea is dead… I’m not in charge right now, but I’m telling you for sure we are going to kill the bridge idea.”

Clements responded by saying Newberg residents have indicated over the years that they want the additional land developed. His words proved prophetic at the July 24 board meeting, when people filled the room, many standing for the entire meeting, to show their support.

The same goes for the Yamhelas Westsider Trail. The commissioners are doing the polar opposite of what Yamhill County citizens want.

In recognition of that, former commissioner Kulla remains optimistic. “As long as the county owns it,” he said, “there can be a trail.”

One long-term solution may lie in informed voting.

If Yamhill County citizens take the time to learn who is funding candidates, and why, they can better direct their votes to candidates not controlled by monied interests. They can back candidates who support what the citizens want.

Like David, Yamhill County citizens can defeat a giant.



Words matter. City and county officials are “viciously” opposed to a walking bridge? Really? Viciously? Just wow. 1991 3 commissioners supporting something doesn’t negate the huge red flags on that project as has been proven repeatedly. And to clarify another exaggeration only some “locals” supported it, some did not. Gosh there is not enough space here to identify all the exaggerations and misuse of words. I don’t like the phrase but it seems pretty fitting here, beating a dead horse.


When you can’t refute the point of the story, you can always complain about the vocabulary.

Joel R

I'm very much in support of the trail....but not a big fan of this article. Trying to scare people with heavily loaded words like "right wing extremists" and "Big money" just drives people further apart and makes the trail even less likely.


Messenger firing squad is now activated.


Jeez Louise Joel!! Pot meet Kettle. A very quick search and I found you use the following terms: divisive left wing ideology, snowflakes, extreme left wine school board..... You seem to not practice what you preach.

Joel R

Bleep, I'm glad you only mentioned those three. Sadly, I've posted many more than that. And I've learned that it doesn't work. Doesn't change a single mind. Just drives people even further away.

Mac Runner

What the commissioners and their allies did was vicious. They smeared and attacked professional staff for working on the trail project (aka, attacked them for doing their jobs). They cost taxpayers millions in demolition and grants to be repaid. And they did it on behalf of their donors and at the expense of the people of this county’s right to use public infrastructure the same way that every other rural county uses public infrastructure. Some of the farmers involved have massive fines for illegal spraying practices and are trying to seize that public right of way for their personal benefit.


Appreciate your comment, Mac Runner. I add my voice to yours. Our BOC is an autocratic disgrace. They serve only those who line their pockets, the rest of us pay their salaries and receive NO representation whatsoever. I will hold out hope that voters are paying attention and will turn out for the next election.