Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency hesitates at first meeting.

Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency stalls at first meeting.

Over the last year and a half the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and the Oregon  of Parks and Recreation Department (OPTD) have been laying the groundwork to establish an interagency task force that would manage the funding and construction of the Salmonberry Trail. Mostly this process is dominated by agency administrators, various county commissioners, officials from the Port of Tillamook Bay, and Senator Betsy Johnson.

Like many of these bureaucratic processes the pace is glacial and the sticking points are obscure issues that tend to put most people to sleep. There are only a few of us recreational advocates monitoring this process. We’re there to ensure the process moves forward and that the public is informed of its progress. There has been a lot accomplished over the last year, which I will review later in this post.

In December 2015 the first meeting of the newly constituted Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency proved very disappointing! Aside from temporarily setting aside the inclusion of the Grand Ronde Tribes onto the Board, the organization also failed to act on its first substantive issue – taking possession of the property on which the railroad line was built. Clear state ownership by a single entity is essential to secure federal assistance.

As a result, neither of the two motions brought before the interagency group were approved. In both cases it seems that concerns about process or the implications of assuming ownership risks had not been adequately examined. With the next board meetings scheduled two months hence, the resulting delay has clearly slowed the project’s momentum. Nobody it seemed had counted noses to see if the motions enjoyed the necessary consensus. Interagency agreements are all fine and good, but it’s internal consensus building and effective external communication that ensure their success.

Background: Storms knock out the PR&N railroad:

Since the violent coastal storm of  December 2007, there has been increased discussion about converting the Pacific Railroad and Navigation (PR&N) that runs from Washington County to Tillamook into a pedestrian, cycling and equestrian trail. With each new storm the repair costs have increased until it became clear to the Port of Tillamook Bay (POTB), that their railroad line was no longer sustainable. While earlier storms had inflicted more than $15 million in damages, the storm of 2007 increased the costs to restore the rail service to more than $60 million.

Hikers and recreational users press for a rail-to-trail conversion:

During this time the recreational community was beginning to take notice of this “gorgeous” trek and began to inquire about the fate of this seemingly abandoned railroad. In 2010, the “www.foresthiker.com” website published a detailed guide to walking the “wild” portion of the route from Cochran Pond all the way to the confluence with the Lower Nehalem River. This attracted  a sizable number of more adventurous hikers that were willing to deal with the overgrown and treacherous conditions along the flood ravaged banks of the Salmonberry River. Around 2011 I recall contacting John Blackwell, then the Chair of the Board of Forestry, who was involved in a nascent effort to convert the rails to a trail. “We have to wait until the Port of Tillamook decides that restoring rail service is no longer viable. Until they’re on board there’s nothing anyone can do, since they own the rail road”, he informed me. “Keep your powder dry”, he advised, “they’ll have to make a decision soon.” In the meantime, I began to advocate to local recreational groups and regional trail planners for a route to the coast and my first recommendation was to use the rail bed along the Salmonberry River. In the summer of 2012, Oregon Public Broadcasting featured my efforts to establish a Portland-to-the-Coast route on their Oregon Field Guide program (http://watch.opb.org/video/2301631117/).

ODF and OPRD conduct extensive outreach to affirm support for the Salmonberry Trail:

Shortly thereafter, the Port of Tillamook Bay abandoned efforts to restore rail service to Tillamook and they agreed to work with the Department of Forestry (ODF)  and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) to convert the rail bed for recreational use – from Manning in Washington County all the way to Tillamook. In July of 2013, the OPRD convened a meeting of interested neighbors, recreational users, and representatives of the nearby communities – the “Salmonberry Coalition”.

Walker-Macy completes the Master Plan:

The purpose of these meetings was to kickoff the Master Plan, which included public outreach meetings through most of 2014. In November 2014, Walker Macy, a local engineering firm, had completed the Master Plan.  In March of that year the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 1516 at the urging of Senator Betsy Johnson. It directed the ODF and the OPRD to work together to bring this project to fruition. As part of this collaboration, it was agreed to establish a Salmonberry Corridor Development Committee under the aegis of the ODF’s  Tillamook Forest Heritage Trust. This committee, of which I am a member was tasked with developing a fundraising plan capable of raising the funds needed for this ambitious trail project.

Metropolitan Group study affirms the feasibility of raising as much as $23 million.

The Salmonberry Trail Development Committee’s first action was to engage the Metropolitan Group, a Portland-based public relations firm, to develop a fundraising feasibility study. By July 2015, the Metropolitan Group had issued their conclusion that it was possible to raise at least $23 million (costs were estimated at $23 million to $45 million) over ten years – from a combination of state, federal, county and local funding, along with a substantial contribution by private and individual donations.

The Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency:

At the same time an intergovernmental agency was created to provide a solid governance structure for the project. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), Tillamook County, and the Port of Tillamook Bay (POTB) agreed to establish the Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency (STIA). As part of this new governance, Dennis Wiley, an OPRD employee, was appointed as the manager for the overall project. He takes over from the industrious efforts of Rocky Houston (OPRD) and Ross Holloway (ODF).

Let your voice be heard:

I am presenting this summary of the Salmonberry Trail development in order to keep recreational enthusiasts, hikers, fishermen and local residents apprised of the progress, or lack of it. Input from all of us can have a significant impact on the pace of the project moving forward. It took 20 years to build the Banks-to-Vernonia trail. No doubt this project will take at least as long, but without pressure from the potential users this project could stall indefinitely – so let your voice be heard at the OPRD, the ODF and at Senator Betsy Johnson’s office – she’s a fierce proponent of this project!

Look for regular updates on this website as this visionary project continues…

Jim Thayer

About Jim

Love to spend time getting lost in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest with Zoe, my Siberian Husky.
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2 Responses to Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency hesitates at first meeting.

  1. Gene McMullen says:

    It should be a no brainer. I cannot imagine there being millions to create a trail through there. My son and I walked the tracks from the Nehalem to The North Fork many times. Of course that was on the tracks and I assume that the trail would use the rail bridges as crossings. There should be ways to make no one liable for this,

    • Jim says:

      I think many of us would like to see this trail become a bit more “established” and less dangerous (tunnels caving in, trestles deteriorating, etc.). Yes, it will lose some of the allure that the less risk-aversive explorers enjoy – like you and me. But it’s really stunning enough to attract hikers from as far away as Europe. It really is a “world-class” hike and all the communities along the way can reap an economic benefit as well. Lord knows, many of those remote towns could use the influx of tourism.

      Pass the word about this ongoing coverage. Jim

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