In an effort to calm the continuing conflict over the proposed opening of a trail running from Lyle to Klickitat, several state political leaders and county officials will meet in a private Oct. 30 session in Goldendale.
The long-debated public trail would be created along the former railroad grade that winds through the scenic Klickitat River canyon between Lyle and Klickitat.
The line was known as the Goldendale Branch, and was operated between Lyle and Goldendale until it became economically unhealthy to continue the route.
Washington State Parks has been the "underlying land owner" of the 32 miles of railbanked right of way since 1994 when the track was removed. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) conveyed the land to State Parks for eventual use as a public hiking/biking/horseback riding trail.
"My understanding of the meeting is that folks have concerns about how things are going, with issues regarding trespass and gates and public use," said Larry Fairleigh, assistant director of Washington State Parks.
Those scheduled to be in attendance at the Goldendale meeting include State Sen. Jim Honeyford, State Rep. candidate Dan Newhouse, Klickitat County Planning Director Curt Dreyer, Rex Derr, director of Washington State Parks, Larry Fairleigh, assistant director of State Parks, and Lori Zoller, a private property owner and outspoken opponent of the proposed trail. A representative from U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings office is also expected to be there.
"Our goal is to try to get this situation calmed down and see if we can resolve the problem," said Sen. Honeyford. "We asked the director of Washington State Parks to meet with us, and he agreed. We're just trying to seek resolution to the problem. We're not trying to figure out who's right or wrong, just resolve issues so we can move on. That's where I'm trying to go."
Honeyford added that no attorneys would be present.
No trail supporters were invited to the meeting.
"State Parks fills that role," Honeyford explained. "I do not believe that adding proponents to this meeting will aid in reducing the current conflicts. At the director's [Derr] request, no attorneys will be present, and the meeting is kept small and private."
Fairleigh said a major development may be in the works.
"We as an agency can hold the property until the Forest Service steps in and develops, maintains, and manages the trail, but it has cost us several hundred thousand dollars to be the underlying landowner," Fairleigh explained. "Our staff will recommend that we can no longer continue to hold the 32-miles of corridor. We can turn the property back to RTC. We don't have the budget to spend lots and lots of money on this corridor."
Fairleigh said if the land is returned to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, that organization could hold the property "until the Forest Service steps up." However, he declined to speculate what would happen if the Forest Service did not move forward with the project.
"If the Forest Service walks away, whatever becomes of it at that point is out of our [State Parks] control," he said.
Honeyford said he doesn't want to exacerbate the controversy.
"I do not see anything to gain in these discussions from having proponents of the trail attend the meeting," he added. "Neither side is listening to each other. We don't want confrontation. We want State Parks and the county to come to some resolution."
Planning Director Curt Dreyer said he wasn't sure why he was asked to be at the meeting.
"If called upon, I'll address permit and zoning issues," he said.