Following an Oct. 30 private meeting in Goldendale, a decision has been made to temporarily close the Klickitat Rail-Trail to public use.
The outcome of the closed session was kept secret for several days, but on Nov. 6, Washington State Parks issued the following statement: "The trail will be closed to public use from Nov. 10 through Jan. 31, from the Fisher Hill Bridge, upstream along the Klickitat River to Pitt, and from the town of Klickitat through Swale Canyon to the end of State Parks' ownership. The closure is to help relieve tensions in the area while the State Parks Commission considers public comment and makes a decision about State Parks' future with the property."
According to Virginia Painter, public affairs spokesperson for State Parks, new signs will be posted along the trail to advise the public of the change "as soon as the shops can get them made."
"We're not planning to cite anyone who is on the trail," Painter explained. "It's not that much different than it is now. The trail is posted as not ready for public use, and now it's closed. This is a stronger message. That one was vague."
State Parks is holding the former railroad right of way for possible future use as a trail. The Rails to Trails Conservancy transferred the "quit-claim" deed on portions of the roadbed to State Parks in 1994.
The closed meeting on Oct. 30 was held at the Klickitat Public Utility District building in Goldendale. It was attended by Rex Derr, director of Washington State Parks, several state legislators, and two private property owners who oppose creation of the proposed trail.
What was discussed at the session was kept private, and the local press was barred: A reporter from The Goldendale Sentinel who showed up to cover the meeting was turned away at the door by State Sen. Jim Honeyford (R.-Sunnyside).
In the wake of the trail's closure, State Parks has scheduled a public forum with representatives of the agency as well as a representative from the U.S. Forest Service, which originally had been designated as trail manager once the trail was dedicated.
The public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the Lyle Lions Community Center. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.
"We want to hear from the public as to what they would like to see happen on the trail," added Painter. "State Parks could get out of the property, or maybe we would want a role."
Although the trail has not been closed for the winter in previous years, Painter compared the current situation to other parks around the state that close on a seasonal basis.
"It doesn't mean people can't go in there, but we will inform anyone who does that there are no services and you would be kind of entering at your own risk," Painter said.
Bob Hansen, a Lyle resident who supports the trail, expressed disappointment with the decision to bar the public from using the right of way.
"If it were SR 14, and there were people harassing those using the road, would they close the road?" Hansen questioned. "If it were Burlington Northern and BN's trains were being harassed, would they stop running the trains? This is a public right of way, and the public is being denied its use. It's almost a reward for those who would intimidate others. I hate to see that happen in my county. And then they're not allowing the other side to speak."
Lori Zoller, a local property owner and outspoken opponent of the trail, declined to comment on the decision to temporarily close the trail.
"No, I'll wait and go to the [Nov. 19] meeting," Zoller said.
Business owners were among those complaining about the closed door decision to keep people off the trail.
"I'm just disappointed for the community. The trail definitely would be a plus for all the businesses in Klickitat," said Marsha Martell, owner of the Chevron station in Klickitat. "I don't understand how (State Sen. Jim) Honeyford can have a private meeting, and then have Lori Zoller there. State Parks owns this trail -- that means you and I own it."