A proposal to develop a series of multi-use recreational trails near Salmonberry Lake in St. Helens is still in the early stages of planning, but residents were invited to provide feedback on the concept during a public forum this week.
Around 50 people attended the forum to offer input. Attendees included those excited about the possibility of nearby outdoor recreational opportunities, as well as adjacent property owners concerned about noise and traffic that could result.
Casey Garrett, Columbia County's director of General Services, and Chris Bernhardt, a trail consultant with C2 Recreation, led the discussion Tuesday night, May 14.
The city of St. Helens owns nearly 2,400 acres near Salmonberry Reservoir just off Pittsburg Road, east of Trenholm, and uses the land for timber harvesting. Officials with the Columbia County parks program have been working with the city and other stakeholder groups, agencies and nonprofits to develop the idea of creating multi-use trails on the property.
Generally, the approach will be phased, meaning trail systems, campsites and other amenities will be built as grant funding is available, Garrett explained.
The county is hoping to apply in mid-June for grant dollars through the Regional Trails Program, which is funded by fuel tax revenue and ATV/OHV license fees statewide. The success of the county's application will be known in October.
In a sense, pursuing the grant funds is "bringing back Columbia County tax dollars, which are going elsewhere," Garrett explained.
Initial concepts for the multi-use trails include non-motorized trails along the property south of Pittsburg Road and motorized trails, bike and equestrian paths, and other trails north of Pittsburg Road. The first wave of trails will likely range from five to 10 miles in length, Garrett explained.
Garrett said he and Bernhardt hope to have a conceptual trail plan at the next parks advisory meeting Tuesday, May 21. The plan will be need to be completed and approved before the grant application can be submitted.
"This is the first step of very many to come in the public process," Garrett said.
During the public discussion Tuesday, some residents expressed concern about allowing motorized access to the property, which could cause noise. Critics said the already hear motorized dirt bikes in the area and noted that designing trails specifically for those users seems like a bad idea. Others were concerned about how proposed campsites could increase fire danger or pose general safety risks to nearby property owners.
Others, however, were in favor of creating trails and allowing access that could be monitored by a camp host or volunteer. In an era when access to forestland has been limited by private business over time, such as forestland exclusions recently imposed by Weyerhauser Co., some see the trails as a way to revive recreational opportunities to go fishing, four-wheeling and more.
Columbia County received $15,000 for the initial stage of the process from Columbia County Economic Team, which had received $85,000 in grant funding from Travel Oregon's Regional Cooperative Tourism Program last year.
CCET then awarded money to Columbia County and to two other projects aimed at improving recreation tourism opportunities. Those projects included improvements on the Crown Zellerbach Recreational Trail and developing a comprehensive plan for Prescott Beach.
The city of St. Helens has also committed $5,000 to the trail project, and Garrett said Pacific Stainless and other private contributors have pledged nearly $50,000 to help fund trail implementation.
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