Although the 2002 redistricting shifted his district outside the borders of Klickitat County, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird is making it clear that he still cares about the people he once represented here.
On May 18, Baird visited the Klickitat Rail-Trail corridor for a bicycle ride along a portion of the trail. Visiting with Baird was Keith Laughlin, president of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C.
Several local officials, including Klickitat County Treasurer Dani Burton, were also on hand.
Despite ongoing opposition from some residents with property adjacent to the trail, supporters said they were encouraged by the visits.
"They were here to meet with the Klickitat Trail Conservancy," said Cheryl Steindorf, vice president of the recently-formed organization that is promoting creation of a recreational trail. "Baird bicycled part of the trail and will sponsor an appropriations bill for the trail."
According to Steindorf, the bill would provide $500,000 to help develop the entire trail.
"He was involved in supporting the project before the redistricting, and is still supportive," Steindorf added.
She pointed out that Baird grew up in a small, economically depressed town in Colorado, and he witnessed how a trail project helped revitalize the community.
"He is hopeful the trail will do the same for Klickitat," explained Steindorf, a fourth-generation resident of Klickitat. "If he can introduce the bill, at least it will generate interest."
After the visit, Burton said she was optimistic.
"I'm so impressed with that town [Klickitat]. It just won't die," Burton said. "There are very active people there and they are trying so hard. They aren't just laying around saying there's nothing we can do. It's the most beautiful trail. It's an absolute treasure to have."
Last week, the Klickitat Trail Conservancy (KTC) contributed $2,500 to help address landowner concerns and address safety concerns along the Klickitat Trail.
The KTC also contributed $1,445 to Washington State Parks to cover half of the cost for new signs that will remind hikers and bikers to respect private property and remain on the trail.
Concerns over lack of rest-room facilities along the trail have been raised in recent meetings held by the U.S. Forest Service. In response, the KTC has placed four temporary rest-rooms at different locations along the 31-mile trail, at a cost of nearly $1,400. The locations for the toilets are the trailheads at SR 14 in Lyle, Pitt, Wahkiacus, and Harms Road.
"Both of these decisions come out of feedback from adjacent landowners. We are bound and determined to make sure the Klickitat Trail and its users are good neighbors in Klickitat County," said Bob Hansen, president of the Klickitat Trail Conservancy and a resident of Lyle.
The Klickitat trail corridor was formerly owned by Burlington Northern Railroad and was railbanked by the Interstate Commerce Commission. The Rails-To-Trails Conservancy negotiated with Burlington Northern in 1993 to acquire the corridor, and then granted the Forest Service an exclusive license to use the trail for recreation and preservation purposes. The Rails-To-Trails Conservancy donated the land to Washington State Parks in 1994 with the intent that the Forest Service would manage the entire corridor.
The trail is not officially "open," but the state has made it clear that the public is allowed to use it.
The U.S. Forest Service is currently considering managing part or all of the trail, and is expected to make a decision on its management role this summer.