Klickitat County and Washington State Parks have been exchanging correspondence regarding the county's request to remove the old railroad span that crosses Fisher Hill Road and the Klickitat River.
The span is part of the former Burlington Northern Railroad right of way, and has been claimed by State Parks as part of the proposed Rails to Trails corridor from Lyle to Centerville.
County officials claim the bridge's vertical clearance of 12' 4" presents a problem.
Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck said there is not sufficient clearance for loaded hay trucks or log trucks to pass under.
"We've asked State Parks to remove it or jack it up," Struck explained.
On Aug. 14, Klickitat County Public Works Director Larry Nicholas wrote to Cleve Pinnix, director of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to request that the trestle be removed.
"The 12'-4" vertical clearance is inadequate for hauling farm and forest products and equipment over Fisher Hill Road," Nicholas wrote, adding that the trestle is unsafe. "It is totally unsafe for anyone to cross the river on the railroad trestle in its present condition. The railroad was transferred to Rails to Trails Conservancy and to Washington State Parks in March of 1994, trestle liability was included. Nothing has been done to improve the trail or make the trestle safe for crossing in eight years ... it is our hope that you will agree to remove the railroad trestle span over Fisher Hill Road and make the necessary arrangements to have the work done in a timely manner. If it is still your decision not to remove the span, then the county will rely on those remedies available under the law regarding obstructions in the right of way."
In a response to Nicholas' letter, Charles Montange, an attorney for the Rails to Trails Conservancy, pointed out that the campaign to pull out the bridge is an effort to try to kill the planned trail.
"The County Commissioners have been acting in misdirected opposition to the Klickitat Rail Trail for years. This removal request seems more of the same," Montange wrote in an Aug. 29 response to Nicholas. "The bridge is a great structure for trail and future rail reactivation purposes, and ... removal of the bridge could result in a break in the trail and in unsafe conditions. Rails to Trails Conservancy opposes your request that this magnificent structure at a highly scenic location be removed."
Montange also noted that the former railroad bridge has not been upgraded to a safer condition because of the county's ongoing efforts to halt the trail project. He pointed out that any development of the trail would include decking and handrailing the Fisher Hill Bridge.
Montange said trail proponents would support jacking up the bridge by as much as two feet to allow better clearance as part of a package including trail development.
Struck pointed out that, although the railroad bridge has been there for decades, conditions have changed.
"When the bridge was built, there were not the type of vehicles we use now," he explained. "And as the road is repaved or re-graveled, it reduces the distance between it."
Bill Koss, manager of planning and research for Washington State Parks, pointed out that State Parks owns the bridge and does not want it removed.
"It would not take much time, effort, or money to make the bridge safe. It wouldn't be a problem to deck and handrail it," Koss said. "If it's removed, you would take out a nice ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act] accessible grade."
Struck noted that the Klickitat River has washed out portions of the trail in some areas, so it would need to be better marked than it currently is if it is to be used by hikers.
"If it is opened for public access, State Parks would need to identify where the trail is, and put sanitary services out there, and a place for garbage," Struck said. "And I'd like them to take responsibility to make sure there is not confrontation with private landowners."
Against the backdrop of the ongoing controversy, trail supporters have organized another group hike on the trail, on Oct. 19. As part of the effort, organizers have called for direct support of local businesses in Lyle and Klickitat.
"The businesses in our community need and appreciate our support, and the support of other outdoor folks," wrote Bob Hansen, a Lyle resident, in a message to local trail supporters. "The hikes are scheduled so that you can have breakfast and/or lunch in Klickitat or Lyle, and consider filling your car while there as well."