A Gorge resident who began leading organized hikes along the controversial Klickitat Trail in 2002 and helped open it for public use has been recognized as the winner of this year's "American Hiking Society Volunteer of the Year" for the state of Washington.
Lyle resident Bob Hansen was singled out for his leadership efforts to bring public awareness to the 31-mile trail created over the former railroad right of way trail that starts in Lyle, in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The American Hiking Society chooses its top volunteers based on contributions to trail maintenance and improvements.
"I'm very excited to receive the award, but this is by no means a one-person effort," said Bob Hansen. "The success of this trail has been written by the hundreds of people who love this place."
The Klickitat Trail has had a short but controversial history. In 1993, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) purchased five railroad rights of way along the Klickitat River and one of its tributaries, Swale Creek, for over $3 million from Burlington Northern for interim trail use under the federal railbanking statute (16 U.S.C. 1247(d)). In 1994, the Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission accepted title of the corridor with the understanding that the U.S. Forest Service would develop and manage the corridor as a public trail. RTC donated $50,000 to State Parks to offset interim management costs.
A group of adjacent landowners filed litigation in federal district court against Washington State Parks and RTC, but the court dismissed the landowners' case, stating that the National Trails Systems Act provided defendants with a right to the corridor. Despite this decision, harassment from some adjacent landowners kept most people from enjoying the trail.
That changed in June 2002 when Sean Stroup, a college student doing a thesis on rail trails, was harassed by a landowner for using the trail. Stroup was later cited for "criminal trespass" by Klickitat County. The reaction to the county's action was swift. The Washington Attorney General's office sent a letter to Klickitat County, admonishing county officials that "it is the duty of law enforcement officials to uphold the law, not to assist others in violating the law."
Momentum for the trail grew and in January 2003 a new organization, the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, was formed to demonstrate local support for the trail. Hansen was elected as board president, a position he still serves today. The Conservancy now has over 100 members, has put in over 750 volunteer work hours on the trail and pays for a number of portable toilets along the trail.
In December 2003, the U.S. Forest Service agreed to manage the lower 14 miles of the trail. Washington State Parks and Klickitat Trail Conservancy are currently working out a management agreement for the upper half.
The American Hiking Society, a national recreation-based conservation organization, was established in 1976 and is dedicated to establishing, preserving and maintaining footpaths in America. June 5 marked the 12th year for National Trails Day.