In July the Chehalem Park & Recreation District commissioned a telephone survey of Yamhill County residents to get a picture of what they want for future trail and recreational projects, including the controversial Yamhelas Westsider Trail. Salem-based Nelson Research conducted the survey in order to gather opinions on the matter, and now the results are in.
"CPRD continues to work on the development of Chehalem Heritage Trails and seeks to engage the public in the process," public information director Kat Ricker said in a statement. "The CPRD board of directors looks to scientific survey data to inform their decisions on masterplans, priorities, direction and projects. This survey will help inform the board, staff and the newly appointed trails advisory committee on the opinions of the public on the future direction of trails projects, including Chehalem Heritage Trails, Yamhelas Westsider Trail and trails at Bob and Crystal Rilee Park."
A total of 400 respondents were interviewed for the survey between July 15 and 22. The margin of error in the survey is plus/minus 4.9%, according to Nelson Research, with a 95% confidence level.
About 61% of respondents to the survey were voters age 45 or older, which Nelson noted as a key demographic that more frequently votes in local elections than other age groups.
Among respondents, 49% said they believed the number of parks, trails and scenic byways was adequate. That plurality was ahead of the 33% who said it was inadequate and 18% who were unsure.
While it may be a topic of heated political discussion, particularly at county commissioners' meetings, 52% of respondents said they had not read or seen information on the Yamhelas Westsider Trail.
When provided detailed and accurate information on the plan for development of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, 64% of survey respondents indicated support for it while 16% were opposed. After listening to an extensive list of pros and cons, the percent supporting the trail increased to 70%, and those opposed reached 23%. These numbers run counter to the narratives pushed on social media and during board meetings by County Commissioners Lindsay Berschauer and Mary Starrett, who've claimed a groundswell of community opposition to the project based on its purported impact on local farmers, among other politically charged issues.
About 57% of survey respondents say they have "high trust" in CPRD, while 27% said they have "low trust" of the entity. Meanwhile, 37% of respondents expressed high trust in the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners, while 48% expressed low trust.
"Clearly, there is strong support for the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, as evidenced by strong support throughout the survey in both closed-ended and open-ended responses," Nelson Research wrote in its conclusion after the survey. "Support increases even further when presented with information that the trail would create a safe and convenient transportation choice for walking, biking or horseback riding between communities and would not require the taking of any private land. In addition, knowing all concerned parties would be invited to participate in the planning process before the development of the trail also solicits very strong levels of support.
"While respondents express significant concern about the trail's impact on farmers and farmland, it appears that counter arguments related to using fencing, gates, trail closures, signage and other methods to ensure that farming is not disrupted substantially eases these worries. On the other hand, some respondents express significant anxiety about homeless camps, litter and safety issues on the trail.
"It will be very important for proponents of the trail to address these concerns and reassure residents that the proposed trail will be safe, free of homeless camps and provide a great benefit to the community. If proponents for the trail can mount a strong positive education and communications campaign about the benefits of the proposed trail and how it will positively impact the community, they should be able to solicit the level of support needed to be successful. It will be very important for proponents to weave their messages into a clear and concise strategy to counter those opposed to the development of the trail."
CPRD forms committee on heritage trails
At a meeting of the CPRD board of directors on Aug. 26, 17 applicants were appointed to the first-of-its-kind Chehalem Heritage Trails Advisory Committee. CPRD put out a notice to members of the public interested in joining the committee and all 17 applicants were selected for the committee.
Board liaisons to the committee include directors Bart Rierson and Jim McMaster.
"The purpose of the committee is to provide recommendations to the board of directors regarding new and developing trails and pathways within Chehalem Heritage Trails network of pedestrian, bicyclist, equestrian, water and any other modality of trails, and work to create a volunteer base and network for trail maintenance," Ricker said in a statement.
Members of the advisory committee include Jill Bilka, Erin Chen, Michelle Colvin, Quentin Comus, Matt Dolphin, Kristina Ernstrom, Allen Holstein, Lisa Jackson, Kimberly Lanier, Lacy Mendoza, Bob Oleson, Justin Patterson, Martin Peters, Cindy Riggs, Erin Robinson, Peter Siderius and Dustin Wolfe.
For more information on CPRD's plans for local trails, its committees, board meetings and survey results, visit www.CPRDNewberg.org.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.