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Yamhelas Westsider Trail, Pro: Project is worth a look with fresh eyes

##Radford Bean
##Radford Bean

Does Yamhill County’s Yamhelas Westsider Trail, proposed for former railroad right of way extending 14.8 miles north from Gun Club Road almost to Gaston, have a legitimate future?

Prior to the 2020 county commissioner election, funds had been raised to start development of the trail, and one of several necessary bridges had nearly been completed. Plans called for eventual development of trailheads in places like Carlton, Yamhill and Gaston, along with additional bridges, wayfinding signage, rest areas, benches, picnic tables and such.

[See also, Con: Trail nothing more than expensive boondoggle]

The main purpose was to create a safe path where cyclists, walkers, joggers, and others could recreate. Currently, cyclists, walkers, and joggers need to share Highway 47 with a heavy flow of commuter, recreational and agricultural traffic, including tractors, combines, semis and other large vehicles.

The trail was also being promoted as a way to foster greater community cohesiveness and give Yamhill-Carlton students a safer way to get to and from school.

However, Commissioner Mary Starrett was strongly opposed. And when Lindsay Berschauer was elected to the board on an anti-trail campaign, they teamed up to put the project on indefinite if not permanent hold.

Some day we could end up with a favorable board again. But a more effective way of addressing the problem might be to put a trail funding measure on the 2024 ballot and let voters decide. That would serve to better inform current and future commissioners on what citizens want.

The trail system uses the abandoned Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way, purchased by Yamhill County. The railbed is still in place, but overgrown with vegetation in some locations.

Eventually, Washington County hopes to purchase the rail line from Gaston to the point where a spur winds to Hagg Lake, allowing cyclists and joggers easy lake access. On down the line, connections could be developed with other trails, including the Salmonberry and Banks-Vernonia, tying in McMinnville, Forest Grove, Hillsboro and other communities.

Without going into the direct, indirect, and community economic benefits, it’s worth noting that trails are great for local economies. Where trail systems have been implemented, whether they be wilderness, multi-use, or water trails, neighboring communities have reaped economic benefits.

Take, for example, Oakridge, Oregon.

This town was once a logging hub, its livelihood centered around logging and the dollars that industry brought into the community. With the reduction in logging in the area since the early 1990s, it faced an identity and economic crisis.

What to do?

Oakridge could have gone the way many cities in the rust belt back east have gone through and dwindled into practical obscurity. Instead, forward-thinking community members came up with a plan.

Oakridge had hills, it had the old logging roads and it had restaurants. Why not use those to create a mountain biking destination? Thus was born one of the best mountain biking trail systems in the West.

According to the Outdoor Industry report, cycling and other forms of outdoor recreation contributed $862 billion to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 2022. That’s huge!

Running and cycling were, respectively, the second and third most popular outdoor recreation activities cited in the report. Cycling was the largest outdoor activity among those in the ages 6 to 17 range, with running fourth.

This is wine country, so the trail would run by an array of vineyards serving local wineries. Cycling would benefit them by fostering bike tours and helping support cafes, bistros and other businesses associated with the industry.

Towns along the route could become destination points and encourage the need for hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments. A cycle shop or tour company in Carlton, Gaston, or both would provide jobs and economic benefits to these small communities.

It’s been well-established that some farmers are dead set against the trail. They feel it would attract unsavory people, foster vandalism, interfere with agricultural operations and spur spraying opposition.

Farmers cited the Springwater Corridor Trail as an example of what they fear, based on past issues with homeless camps. However, the trail appears to be free of such camps today.

There are other differences as well. For one, Springwater traverses both heavily industrial and residential areas, while the Yamhelas Westsider route is almost entirely rural.

While visiting the Galloping Goose Trail in British Columbia, I never spotted a single homeless camp or homeless person. Back in Oregon, Cottage Grove’s Row River Trail also shows no sign of litter or a homeless presence.

Many of the farms that border the proposed trail grow hazelnuts, which require pesticide spraying. But the Banks-Vernonia Trail also borders farmland, and that hasn’t proved a problem.

A ballot measure could allow us to address the pros and cons countywide, with the involvement of a fuller range of interests.

Comments

Loretta

I am wondering who initiated this article or how it came to be?

Otis

I'm guessing about 80% of county residents wanted this article to be written.

WO

Thank you, Radford! I definitely appreciate your article and logical point of view.

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