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America’s longest rail trail escapes the axe

Saturday 23 January railway paths US John Wayne Pioneer Trail
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The John Wayne Pioneer Trail, the longest rail-trail in the US at 300 miles, has escaped closure at the hands of hostile Washington state lawmakers.

Two Republican members of the Washington House of Representatives, Mary Dye and Joe Schmick, had proposed to close 130 miles of the state-owned trail, and give the land to adjacent landowners. They claimed the trail was under-maintained – an assertion which most cyclists agree with – but that the best way to deal with the problems was simply to get rid of it. Unsurprisingly, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy disagreed, saying:

“Time and time again, we’ve seen trails around the country provide jobs, support small businesses, and reinvigorate local communities. Rather than close the trail, a smart investment in maintenance and improvements for the John Wayne Pioneer Trail could provide big wins for Washington’s economy.”

Now, RTC says that Schmick has agreed to withdraw his closure request, and will instead abide by whatever the State Parks Advisory Committee decides. No fewer than 14 cities en route signed resolutions asking the trail to be improved, not closed. The result – at least for now – is a reprieve for this epic wild trail.

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail is among the most rugged of America’s rail-trails, and a ‘fat bike’ is almost de rigeur. It crosses two-thirds of Washington, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border. Traillink.com says “much of it is so remote and desolate that weeks will pass in some sections where the only visitors are coyotes, black-tailed jackrabbits, or gopher snakes”.

The rough, little-maintained surface, and a couple of gaps in the route – notably the closed Beverly Bridge over the Columbia River – have conspired to limit its appeal. But trail supporters believe that the route could have a much better future if maintenance was improved, and the requirement for a trail-riding permit removed.

Read a six-part account of a journey along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.

Support the trail via the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association.

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