Letter to the Editor: Save the John Wayne Trail
January 26, 2016
Ted Blaszak and Monte Morgan
We greet the New Year with the good news reported in Colfax Gazette issue, namely that State Rep. Joe Schmick has abandoned his efforts to close the John Wayne Trail (JWT).
This is a cause for celebration. Just a few short months ago he was committed to introducing legislation to correct the typo that thwarted his previous proviso. Now rather than hand over 6,000 acres of the only cross state trail in Washington to adjacent landowners, the John Wayne Trail will remain open.
It’s a beautiful epic trail, stretched over 280 miles long. It begins in thick wood lands rich with lakes and rivers, then through the dramatic and harsh terrain of the scab lands and ending in some of the most peaceful pastoral settings our state has to offer. Every mile is solemnly tranquil and offers dramatic vistas. Imagine the pride of accomplishment and joy that many Washingtonians will now again feel this summer when they cross our entire state on bike or in a horse drawn wagon. An experience almost lost.
There is no doubt that the hundreds of people who attended recent meetings, co-hosted by both the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association (TTTA) and Rep. Schmick, made it loud and clear, not just Tekoa, but the vast majority of Washingtonians want to keep their cross state trail, and they want it to be improved.
This message was reinforced by the passage of 14 different city resolutions asking the state legislature to fund the trail rather than close it. These are: Tekoa, Spokane, Cheney, Rosalia, Lind, Palouse, Colfax, Pullman, Cle Elum, Royal City, Rockford, Latah, Ellensburg and Roslyn.
We cannot but feel some disappointment however, as our victory was less than total. At these meetings a list of problems that the trail is suffering from was presented to Rep. Schmick and Sen. Schosler, identified by both the adjacent landowners and trail users alike. Issues such as restoring ranger service, removing the special permit requirement for hikers, building trail heads and ending fees imposed on farmers for using the trail to transport equipment. All of these could have been addressed by the legislative session that is just beginning, however Rep. Schmick has so far chosen not to introduce a bill to make any sort of improvements to the trail. A bill that if introduced by him would likely pass.
We are encouraged that the State Parks Department has begun a process to solicit recommendations for better trail management. Unfortunately though, Parks is limited in what it can do. Legislative action is required to make many of the improvements the trail needs. In particular the removal of the special JWT permit requirements for people to use the trail and the sharing of their identities to nearby property owners.
No other park or trail in the entire state of Washington has special permit requirements. This unique burden strongly discourages the public’s use of the trail and invades the personal privacy of our citizens. It can only be removed by an act of the legislature.
Today if you want to take your dog or your kids for a walk on any stretch of the trail, from the Columbia River to the Idaho border, you need a special JWT permit. To get a special JWT permit you must first search on line through a series of websites to find the phone number of the one parks employee to whom you may request a permit application form from. Then you fill it out with your name, address, email, phone numbers, what section of the trails you will be visiting and why you want to be on the trail. Scan it and email the document back to Parks Dept. and wait. They often need a clarification and will email you for it. This process usually only takes a week or two. (To save you some time here’s the phone number you need to call 509-337-6457)
After that your name is given to the approximately 200 local nearby property owners, along a 160 mile stretch of the trail. This is so they will know exactly who is walking by their land. No other property owner anywhere in the state Washington where their property abuts a public right of way has this entitlement.
Not on any Washington beach, not near any lake, not on a mountain or in a valley, not near a school, a hospital or a church, not on your sidewalk or any other place you have ever walked in the State of Washington that is referred to as public property. The State of Washington bought this land in 1985 for 3 million dollars from a bankrupt railroad so that it would be used for exactly what it is; public property, it should be treated as such.
We see no other logical reason for the special JWT permit requirements to continue to exist other than to purposely intimidate and deter people away from a very beautiful and special part of our states park system. Moms and dads with their kids, Boy Scouts and cyclist, horse riders and grandpas, a lot of good people would use that trail if you didn’t make it harder for them.
Because of the special JWT permit requirements people passing by in their cars do not stop and get out to walk the trail. Trail hikers and bikers are inclined to go to other trails where they don’t need to fill out paper work. There are even some who have lived by this trail their entire lives and have never walked on it because they felt permit requirement signs meant the same thing as “No Trespassing”.
The trail goes straight through the expanse of Adams, Grant and Whitman Counties. It’s open use could substantially improve the economy of many of the small towns near the John Wayne Trail. Indeed throughout the greater Palouse.
Our small town economies are struggling and this type of legislative interference does not make it easier for us.
Our economy is hurting. Last year our town had three restaurants, now we only have two. We need jobs, we need all the help we can get, including from the great resource of a cross state trail that is already there.
We wonder what exactly is such a compelling problem with this trail, so much more so than any other park or trail in the entire state, that our legislators are willing to hurt the economies of several small towns for?
It’s simply neither fair, proper, nor smart to maintain the special JWT permit requirements. They are an invasion of personal privacy, undemocratic and bad for the economy of the Palouse.
Hence the officers of the TTTA have decided to continue to lobby the WA state legislature to make the John Wayne Trail accessible to all. We have elected to pursue an agenda for the approaching year that combines our normal club activities with a special focus on trail access.
If anyone wishes more information or to help our efforts they should email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ted Blaszak, President Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association
Monte Morgan, Vice President Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association