Work has actually started on future segments of the ambitious Banks-to-Tillamook trail project.

STAFF PHOTO: OLIVIA SINGER - Two of the Salmonberry Trail project's chairmen, Nels Gabbert and Keith Ketterling, showed U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici where the Catalyst Loop Trail will begin on Friday, Aug. 3. The highly anticipated — and controversial, for many — Salmonberry Trail project has finally begun, with one of the first small "catalyst" projects in the extensive project showing progress earlier this month in Tillamook.

In April, the Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency voted unanimously to sign a lease agreement with the Port of Tillamook Bay to allow for the rail corridor owned by the port to be converted into a multi-use trail, taking the more than 10-year vision into the planning and development phase.

The project will be taking the strip of land once used as a railroad line and repurposing it into an 84-mile multi-use trail, which will connect eight cities and two counties from Banks to Tillamook on the coast.

The trail concept was originally developed in an effort to convert the unusable railroad line, which was heavily damaged by a storm in 2007, into a recreational path that people across the region would benefit from, officials said.

Project leaders have stated that the path will serve as a recreational attraction, bringing in tourists, which will boost local economies, be a means for enhancing safe outdoor activities for both locals and tourists (with the trail being non-motorized), and provide a way to maintain and improve the surrounding environment by cleaning up the river, forest and coastal areas.

Local work starts in Tillamook

While the massive project is forecast to take several decades to complete, small projects on either side of the region are underway.

Recently, Tillamook's "Crosstown Connection" project began, a one-mile trail that will connect the Tillamook Cheese Factory to downtown Tillamook. It is expected to be finished by late fall.

"It is the first mile of the Salmonberry Trail to be completed and in the future will be a portion of the Salmonberry Trail's western coastal segment," said Alana Kambury, communications director for the Salmonberry Trail project.

More locally, the "Catalyst Loop Trail" project will soon begin, which will be the first four miles of the eastern valley segment, Kambury said.

The parking lot for the Manning trailhead to the Banks-Vernonia Trail will be expanded to accommodate 31 parking spaces, and restrooms will replace the portable toilets at the trailhead, said one of the project's chairmen, Nels Gabbert.

The parking lot and restroom portion of the project is expected to be finished by October. It will serve as part of a larger three-year project to create a trail loop connecting the trailhead to L.L. "Stub" Stewart Memorial State Park about seven miles away, Gabbert said.

The loop will be 20 miles long in total when finished.

"We feel like if we can build a loop that people in the metro area can really see what this is about, come out and enjoy it, see the impact on this trail, get a better feel for it, that will encourage more enthusiasm," Gabbert said.

Coordinators are hoping to develop Banks and Tillamook somewhat simultaneously, with small projects starting on each side, until the trail eventually connects, rather than starting on one side and working their way over.

"What's interesting to learn is how the railroad was built similiarly in the early 1900s, where it was developed simultaneously from Tillamook and from Banks, eventually meeting in the middle, (completing) the entire line," Kambury said.

FILE PHOTO - Disused railroad tracks run through the wilderness of the Oregon Coast Range. Trail enthusiasts are planning to convert the rail corridor into a multipurpose trail linking Banks and Tillamook.

Trail has geographically discrete segments

There are four sections of the Salmonberry Trail project.

The coastal portion, which runs for 26 miles from the city of Wheeler to Tillamook, passing through Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi and Bay City. The trail will connect parks along the coast, and connect to the Tillamook Cheese Factory, among other tourist spots.

The second section is the Nehalem River which spans 17 miles from the Salmonberry and Nehalem Rivers to Wheeler. This section will require extra time and detail to develop for safety reasons, officials have said, as the trail will run adjacent to a portion of the scenic railroad operation that will remain active. Along this portion, users will be able to see the Nehalem River and the Nehalem Falls.

The third section is the Salmonberry portion which runs 16 miles through tunnels and forests, along bridges, and along the Nehalem river. Officials have said this section will be for the "most adventurous users" as there will be limited access or facilities along the way.

The final of the four phases is the "Valley." The 25 mile to-be-trail starts in Banks, and with an incline in elevation of 1600 feet along the way, to the Cochran Trailhead. Users will pass several historic trestles alongside farmlands and wine country of the Tualatin Valley.

Lots of opinions about trail project

Tillamook County, Gabbert said, has been supportive and has had a big hand in the planning of this project.

"They've been very involved," Gabbert said. "They have been very generous with supporting our work in Tillamook."

Gabbert also said the mayors of all seven of the cities that will see development have also expressed excitement for the increased options for safe outdoor activities for both tourists and locals.

With close to 200 public meetings so far, Gabbert said, many people have a "seat at the table" making sure all elements of the project are thought through, including the Port of Tillamook Bay, the Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency, county commissioners and city employees, tribes who own impacted land, and the Oregon Department of Forestry, among others.

"So it's a big table with a lot of different perspectives, and that really is a challenge, but it's an opportunity," Gabbert said. "Because if we can really understand those diverse perspectives and anticipate them and address issues of equity now, we are going to be better off."

He added, "We have a ton of input from all kinds of people, users and adjacent property-owners. We have learned a lot and we are trying to incorporate all of that into the trail."

But the input heard hasn't all been positive.

"Some landowners along the trail in Timber and in Tillamook are opposed to change in their neighborhoods and towns, and do not want any users along the corridor," Kambury said. "I believe time and education and remediation of privacy, (like) tree plantings between the trail and private property, will alleviate much of the fear, doubt, and unknowns that are at the base of any opposition."

Kambury said she believes "education is necessary for both local communities and especially new users in order (to be sure) that the trail is used and protected respectfully."

Outdoor recreation seen as high priority

Gabbert said there is a time value on the project, stating that there is deterioration to the rail beds, ever-increasing amounts of rust and overgrown forests. The tunnels are also suffering, he said.

"This opportunity is not going to last forever," he said. "Part of our sense of urgency and wanting to keep pushing forward on this is time is not on our side for maintaining the base foundation for the trail."

What is projected to be a 40- to 50-year project doesn't need to be, said Keith Ketterling, one of the project's other planners.

"Nothing should take that long," he said. "If it's worth doing, let's get it done."

On top of that, Gabbert added, there is great local demand for outdoor recreation right now.

"The pressure on recreation is such that, with the fire last year in the Gorge, all of these (surrounding) campgrounds have had 50 percent growth," he said. "So an interesting challenge with the Salmonberry is generating that enthusiasm for what's possible, but also recognizing that we are not there yet."

Oregon's First District Rep.? Suzanne Bonamici visited the Manning trailhead on Friday, Aug. 3, to learn more about the Salmonberry Trail project from both Gabbert and Ketterling, and to find out how she could be helpful in its progressions at the federal level.

Bonamici asked Gabbert and Ketterling what most people have expressed excitement for with the project.

"Economic benefits," Ketterling responded. "I think people are excited about the economic prospects of what we have here."

Gabbert said that in the valley, he thinks people are excited about the health and wellness benefits of outdoor recreation.

"We have ever-growing pressure for people to access the outdoors, so how do they do that?" Gabbert asked rhetorically. "How do they do that in a safe way and an enjoyable way? This is really a unique opportunity so close in for a lot of different kinds of users."

Gabbert said it is an opportunity to get people who might not typically think of utilizing a trail excited about all it has to offer. He said he has been actively thinking of ways to approach the trail so that it appeals to all different types of people.

One big part of that is that this one big trail project is part of an even bigger network of regional trails.

"When this trail is completed, the possibility of walking from Mount Hood to the coast on a trail becomes possible," Gabbert said. "It's not just Washington County and Tillamook County (who will benefit). It's really going to be a regional landmark, in my opinion."

He added, "I think it's a great story of opening these places up so people can see what we've got, and I'm a firm believer that if you give people access to these special places, they're going to protect them. They're going to take care of them."

COURTESY PHOTO - The Banks-Vernonia State Trail is already a popular recreational multi-use trail in northwestern Oregon.

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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