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Typo in law halts secret plan to give away half of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail

IMG_2103Washington State came one typo away from throwing away hope of ever completing the cross-state John Wayne Pioneer Trail and park (also known in Western Washington as Iron Horse State Park). If improved and connected, it would be the longest rail-trail in the nation.

Without any public outreach or hearing, two 9th District Representatives quietly inserted a last-minute provision in the state’s Capital Budget that they hoped would give away 130 miles of trail right-of-way to adjacent landowners. And because it was not its own bill, the idea never had to pass committee scrutiny or public input.

But rather than close the trail from the Columbia River to Malden, the provision closes the trail “from the Columbia River to the Columbia River.” This wonderful typo means the provision is nullified, and lawmakers will need to try again next session.

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But this time people know about it, and communities across the state are outraged to learn how close the state came to throwing away this amazing and rare public resource. So far, the biggest trail support has come from within the 9th District, especially Tekoa where the trail ends in the east.

“Our state reps snuck this in the last minute in the darkness without any hearing or any attention for us to be able to know about it,” said Ted Blaszak, President of the Tekoa Trestle and Trail Association and member of the Tekoa City Council. “They abandoned their public service to actually represent their constituents and to inform them of the laws they are writing.

“Instead they did it behind our back and in secret. They betrayed us, and they betrayed the town of Tekoa,” he said.

Map of current easily-usable sections of trail according to the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
Map of the currently more accessible sections of trail according to the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Like many towns across the state, Tekoa hopes an improved trail could become a boon to their local economy. Blaszak said they were in the process of organizing a cross-state bike ride connecting Seattle to Tekoa when they learned their representatives tried to give the trail away.

“We don’t want the trail closed, we want the trail enhanced,” he said. The Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association has been working to restore a key trail trestle near the town and raised money to do their own surveying of the entire trail length to help them organize the ride.

Blaszak dreams of a day when people from Seattle will spend a few days biking across the state, visiting the towns along the way, then swing up to Spokane to take the train back.

As we reported over the summer, sections of the trail provide some of the most unique and incredible experiences you will ever have anywhere on the planet. The trail is well-developed from Rattlesnake Lake to Ellensburg, with restrooms, official campsites, water access (often streams, so bring a filter) and preserved bridge and tunnel connections.

But once you get east of the Columbia River, the traveling gets a lot harder (read this amazing blog post series for an idea of what it’s like to bike the whole thing). Lack of water, tough trail surface conditions and closed bridge trestles make some of it hard going.

But the answer isn’t to throw the whole thing away. The answer is to improve the trail so more Washington communities and visitors can use it.

“It’s an important part of our part of Washington’s heritage,” said Blaszak. “Why would we want for that to be our legacy, that we closed a park and a trail?”

Rep. Schmick told the AP he wants to close the trail because it “is infrequently used, attracts crime and needs improvements.” Is it really sound public policy to throw away public park land and right-of-way just because it needs improvements? Also, crime?

Obviously, these ideas are not entirely thought-out, which is why our democracy is supposed to have public input and hearings and committee votes to make sure we aren’t making a terrible mistake.

Blaszak hopes that everyone writes their Representatives to make sure they know about this issue and that they know you oppose giving away trail land. In fact, you could even go a step further an ask for improvements to address the challenges along the trail and make it even better.

More details on the issue from the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association:

The Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association applauds the Tekoa City Council for their unanimous passage of a City Resolution condemning the actions of their legislative representatives in Olympia Mary Dye and Joe Schmick (see attached).

We find their attempt to sneak through the legislature, a blatant land grab of a state park/trail for the benefit of private individuals, nothing less than public thievery.

To destroy and close forever the only cross-state park and trail system in Washington, which runs through the heart of their 9th district, is a betrayal of the interests of the citizens they were elected to represent.

In conversations with State Representatives Joe Schmick and Mary Dye they informed members of the City Tekoa government that they intend to introduce legislation to permanently close large sections of the John Wayne Trail/State Park.

The John Wayne Trail/State Park is a unique and beautiful cross state trail that allows folks to walk, bike, or ride their horses all the way from the Seattle area to the Idaho border in Tekoa, where it ends. The rail to trail park is closed to motorized vehicles.

The Dye/Schmick plan would give away the valuable Trail/Park land to those who own property abuts the trial at no cost to them. This is a land give away of a giant section of a state park that is approximately 135 miles long and 100’ wide.

Representatives Dye and Schmick have made no attempts to solicit or allow for any public comment regarding the matter. They have informed Tekoa that they are the driving force behind the legislation, that they enthusiastically support the closing of the trail, and there was little for anyone to do to stop the passage of their bill.

A similar law written, introduced and carried by Dye and Schmick in the final moments of the 2015 legislative session, was enacted with no debate and little notice. Trails would be closed now but for a typographical error that nullified it. They intend to correct that typographical error in the approaching session.

They cited three reasons to us for their motivation to close the trail forever:

  1. In their opinion the trail is unpopular. “I can count on my hand the number of people who have mentioned that trail to me in the past 8 years that I’ve been a legislator.” “ I never see people on that trail when I drive by it” – Schmick
    This is untrue, many many groups and individuals use the trail. The John Trail Riders use the Park every summer for a cross state wagon ride. We have sponsored a cross state bike ride just this summer. Throughout the year Tekoa sees several bike riders end their cross state journey in our community where they rest, eat and spend critical tourist dollars. And we like to walk on it!! Also is this really the best way to measure usage?
  2. “The state will never get the trail the funding it needs” – Schmick “It is not a priority of the Republican Caucus” – Dye
    The TTTA feels this is why we elected them, to do their job and take on these challenges to bring state support to their district.
  3. The Park/Trail is abused by those recreate there. “These people don’t have the same ethos that we do” – Dye

The destruction of the Trail/Park would negatively impact the economies, social life, and identity of several communities along the trail in their district. Namely; Tekoa, Rosalia, Latah, Malden, Ralston, Lind, Othello, and many more.

We enjoy the use of the trail and feel the permanent loss of the only state wide trail in Washington would be detrimental to the not only to the current economies of communities all along the trail, but would forever end any opportunity for future economic development of what could become a vital job producer across the state.

We were particularly disappointed and shocked because Representatives Schmick and Dye have voiced their support for the refurbishing of the Tekoa Trestle, which is also part of the trail. We are concerned that our adamant opposition to the closing of the trail, upon hearing this shocking news, will put at risk the vital need our city has for the refurbishing of the Trestle, as Representative Schmick indicated might occur.

Rather than close the Trail/State Park, the state and region would be much better served by enhancing the trail to make it more user friendly and therefore encourage more regional tourism. There are several parts of the trail that could use some rock removal, more gravel, better water access, etc… we hope that this would be the direction the State of Washington would take our trail and not to its closure.
We also invite the general public to our “Emergency Town Meeting” scheduled for Monday Sept 21st 6pm at the Tekoa City Hall to discuss action steps to keep the trail open.

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25 responses to “Typo in law halts secret plan to give away half of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail”

  1. Adam

    How’s that for some thievery?

    I thought we had learned to not give away public ROW so carelessly. Once it’s gone it’s extraordinarily difficult to get back into public hands.

    If we could get the funding to improve the trail so it’s more easily ridable/walkable then I guarantee you it would get much more use. That they were just going to give it away reeks of a lack of foresight and does a great misdeed to the people of today and the future.

    1. Adam

      I just wrote a letter to my representatives. The more I wrote the angrier I got at the nerve of D9’s reps in inserting that section.

      I urge everyone else to contact their own respective representatives and make sure this is on their radar: http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

      1. Dan

        Thanks for the link — I just wrote my representatives as well.

        Not only should the trail be kept and, if the resources allow, improved, but this legislative behavior is unacceptable.

    2. Harrison Davignon

      What would be a ideal world is if we could build genital grade bridges in eastern Washington ,so farmers could haul equipment and move animals underneath the trail instead of on it. When I read pollination’s tried to sneakily shut the trail down with no public notice, that is what I would expect to happen sadly. I actually read a comment one farmer said the trail is not a problem at all. Part of the solution is to get volunteers to help fix the trial and finish it and one of the reasons is to save money on repairs. I bicycle rode part of this trail and it was a amazing experience. The completion of the John Wayne pioneer trail would give people options, including packing all there gear and just head straight to Spokane, stop in one or several towns, take a walk, enjoy safe horse back riding. Thank goodness for a funny typo!!!

  2. Dave

    If it’s worth closing rights of way because they attract crime, let’s start with the Interstate Highway System–human trafficking, every variety of illegal driving behavior, and armed robbers running from the scene just for a start. Going by the thought processes of these two Representatives there must be some really great weed being grown in eastern Washington, maybe some mushrooms, too.

  3. Capitol Hillian

    I would love to bike the whole route and spend time and money at little towns along the way – if the trail were improved.

  4. Porch Mbira

    Schmick you schmuck

  5. Southeasterner

    I’m probably a little rusty on my grade school civics lessons but how do you “sneak” something like this through? When the legislators review the budget bill they strike things like this out all the time. We elect them to do just that.

    My biggest disappointment isn’t that some tea party people in Eastern WA are doing stupid things, that should be expected, it’s that our representatives failed to catch it.

    1. DCL

      I’m a little concerned about that too…. Was my representative asleep at the switch and didn’t notice this? Hopefully this will be enough of a wake-up call so that our representatives make sure to pay attention for this kind of thing..

  6. Eli

    I admit I still don’t understand what parts of the trail you can ride on outside of prime season. So I’ve never went there.

    If I could just take a bus (or drive out there) from Seattle for an amazing day of biking I would totally do it. But it’s still a mystery to me, hence, my going to the trusty and reliable south interurban & foothills trail every weekend instead.

  7. Doug Bostrom

    Myopia personified. Also more than a little tautological.

    Hopefully public memory will span the vast gulf of a few months’ time and assert itself in the ballot.

  8. Allan

    This is the sort of outrageous behavior that caused the French Revolution. America is no longer a Democracy. It has become a Cleptocracy and as in the Dark Ages the vast majority are being chronically robbed to benefit a few. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and the other founding fathers of this country pledged their lives and fortunes to give us a Republic and end this sort of behavior. They were wealthy but basically good men and they didn’t have to do it. Now Donald Trump has done the same thing, alone and on his own. When I see the results of the next election in 13 months, I will know if it is time to bail out or stay and help rebuild America.

    1. bill

      The American Revolution succeeded because the ancien regime seized the opportunity to challenge Britain. If the Royal French Navy had not forced the British Royal Navy to fight a worldwide war the British would have smothered the Rebellion handily. The French government ended up broke, with no valuable prizes from the war. The government was unable to purchase foreign grain when several harvests in succession failed, creating the crisis that led to the French Revolution.

      Washington, Jefferson, and the rest of the southern tobacco planters benefited nicely from the Revolution because it swept away Crown policy to leave the continent west of the Appalachian crest to the native inhabitants. That policy had hampered the planters because, in the time before fertilizers, tobacco rapidly depleted the land. Planters required a constant supply of new, fertile land. The southern Founding Fathers gave themselves and their constituents a huge gift at the expense of the non-voting, non-citizen class of original inhabitants.

      All in all, nothing new here when it comes to politicians serving their base.

      I agree with DCL. It is alarming that this attempted giveaway was not detected. It reflects poorly on all the other legislators and their staffs. With any luck Dye and Schmick’s future election opponents will receive a lot of out-of-district funding.

      If the trail were upgraded it would be an amazing touring route. From Tekoa it is not far to Plummer, the eastern end of the Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes.

  9. Allan

    There should be bicycle hostiles and restaurants all along this trail so that people could travel end to end comfortably. That would be really great for businesses along the way. It would be a much nicer trip if you didn’t need to travel fully loaded with food, water and camping gear.

  10. Marco W

    @ Allan 9-27-15 @ 6:11 am — Bicycle hostiles? I’m in! All those in favor of joining the bicycle insurgency in Tekoa, raise your hand!

    But seriously, this is a disgusting perversion of the public process and the responsible electeds should be ashamed. It’s one thing to shift policy openly, and entirely another thing to sneak it in. I hope they find themselves un-elected in the next cycle.

  11. Jeff A.

    Where was Washington Bikes on the biggest reduction in the state’s bike network in history? Isn’t it their job to catch crap like this? Why didn’t Tom ask Blake or Barb for a statement?

  12. Kirk

    What disgusting “public” officials. their “logic” and backtracking now that they have been exposed makes me sick. This makes me want to ride the whole trail. I read the entire blog post linked above, and it sounds like quite a challenge.

    1. Dave

      This trail has been one of my “must rides” for years–think it just got moved up.

  13. Jack


    Heck I just found out about the trail this summer. I plan to ride it this coming spring.

    I’ll be paying for rooms, food, and a ton of beer.

    I’m one of “these people” and I do have an ethos. Don’t steal from others.

    Thanks for the heads up.

    1. bill

      We should cobble together a Team Those People tour to Tekoa.

  14. bill

    Strictly construed the wording gives away the Beverly railroad bridge, which is closed anyway. Sort of amusing. Would be awesome for the bridge to be made passable, though. Otherwise you have to detour to Mattawa.

  15. Chip

    Will you help us get the word out?

    The John Wayne Trail in Washington Needs Your Help

    In the final moments of the last Washington state legislative session in June, 2015, Representative Joe Schmick slipped a provision into the budget to permanently close 135 miles of the John Wayne Trail in eastern Washington and give the state land to adjacent owners.

    The John Wayne Trail (also called Iron Horse State Park) is 287 miles long and follows a former rail line that ran from Seattle to Chicago. Each year thousands of horseback riders, bicyclists, and hikers use the western part of the trail that extends eastward from the Cascade Mountain foothills, goes through tunnels underneath Snoqualmie Pass, and ends up along the banks of the Columbia River. This first 110 miles is well-developed with amenities such as trailhead parking, signage, restrooms, and a smooth surface. The trail continues 177 miles east of the Columbia River but with minimal amenities so fewer people use the trail. Here, it passes across the rugged and serene Missoula Flood scablands to the Idaho border.

    Representative Schmick’s efforts to transfer ownership of 6000 acres of the Washington State lands of the John Wayne Trail to private landowners was done behind closed doors without public notification or hearing. The trail would be closed today if not for a typographical error, a technicality which nullified the legislation he introduced.

    Schmick has now agreed to hold three public “listening meetings” in which to solicit public comment and opinion. He says he will consider introducing legislation to address concerns expressed by citizens in these meetings.

    We are small group of volunteers based in the small city of Tekoa at the eastern terminus of the trail that we are determined to keep open. We aim to find ways to develop adequate state funding for recreational development of the trail in eastern Washington and to help adjacent private landowners solve problems they face by having a linear state park in their back yards, such as the illegal dumping of garbage where the trail intersects public roads.

    As a biker, hiker, or horseback rider won’t you give your support to the future of this gem of Washington state, the John Wayne Trail?

    What You Can Do To Help:

    Write Representative Joe Schmick directly. Let him know how you feel about management of this state park land. You can reach him at [email protected]. Also, write your local state representatives since they are likely to be voting on proposals for funding the trail (find their email addresses at http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/)

    Attend one of the three November meetings scheduled by Schmick. Be ready to give a pitch for the continued use and adequate funding for the John Wayne Trail. The meetings are:

    Tuesday November 10th at 12pm. In Rosalia at the Community Center (7th St. and Whitman Ave.)

    Monday November 16th at 12pm. In Lind at the Union Elevator Conference Room (201 S Street)

    Monday November 23rd at 6pm. In Ellensburg at the Hal Holmes Center (209 N Ruby Street).

    Issues that need to be addressed to ensure a successful future for the John Wayne Trail are:

    1. Improve spraying for noxious weeds.
    2. Reinstate ranger service by State Parks.
    3. Develop a route where the train trestle once spanned Cow Creek.
    4. Remove the permit requirement for recreationalists.
    5. Remove fees for farmers moving equipment on the trail.
    6. Restore Tekoa trestle so it is safe for hikers, horseback riders, and bicyclists.
    7. Start a citizen litter patrol (“Adopt the Trail program”).
    8. Repair the trestle that crosses the Columbia River.
    9. Improve rock slide removal and gravel grading.
    10. Install and maintain adequate fences and gates.
    11. Install trailhead parking areas, signage, water stations, and restrooms.

    For more information about this process call Ted Blaszak at 509-284-2080 or email us at [email protected]. Also, check out the Facebook page, “Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association”. We plan to get a web page dedicated to the John Wayne Trail up and running soon so that you can stay abreast of event and progress.

  16. […] John Wayne Pioneer Trail (AKA the Iron Horse Trail) was one typo away from destruction this year. Not only do we need to protect it from another effort to give away the central half of […]

  17. […] Finally finally, though I suffered a bit on thick gravel, I very much appreciate the existence of John Wayne Pioneer Trail. I hope there won’t be any more secretive (or open) attempt to rid this trail! […]

  18. […] the dream of a fully-functional statewide trail is alive and powerful after a brush with closure last year woke people up across Washington. Thanks in large part to the hard work of the Tekoa […]

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