By SVERRE BAKKE
A Klickitat Rail-to-Trail project took a step forward last week when the State Parks and Recreation Commission determined development of the 31-mile-long former railroad corridor for recreational use "does not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment."
Moreover, State Parks officials, after their own independent review, adopted an environmental assessment completed in August 2003 by the U.S. Forest Service's Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area office as supporting documentation.
"It is my opinion that the Forest Service considered and addressed the range of probable impacts, both short-term and long-term," noted Deborah Petersen, an environmental planner for the Parks and Recreation Commission and the responsible official for State Environmental Policy Act compliance on the project.
"The determination of non-significance reflects the analysis that the combined project components do not have a significant adverse impact on the environment, and in many ways, will protect the environment," Petersen said of her decision.
Public comments on the Parks and Recreation Commission's environmental determination can be submitted to Petersen by May 16 at P.O. Box 42650, Olympia, Wash., 98504-2650, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Forest Service, in cooperation with State Parks, proposes to develop and manage about 13.5 miles of trail in the railbanked former Burlington Northern Railroad corridor between Lyle to Klickitat.
The remainder of the pathway, from Klickitat to Uecker Road in the Warwick-Centerville area, would be developed and managed by State Parks as a public-use, non-motorized trail.
About half of the trail would parallel the Klickitat River, passing through Pitt, Klickitat, Suburbia and Wahkiacus, before turning up and ascending the 14-mile-long Swale Creek canyon.
Planned facilities in the corridor--which is owned by State Parks and is open for non-motorized public use--include trailheads with parking, restrooms and drinking water, regulatory signing, and a footbridge over the river at Suburbia, where a train trestle used to cross.
"The timing of development will depend on the permitting process and availability of funds," Petersen noted.
According to State Parks' environmental planner, the trail project must comply with "a number of land use regulations"--including the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic act and management plan and Klickitat County's Shorelines Master Plan--before it can proceed.
As a first step toward development, the Forest Service plans to seek approval from the Columbia River Gorge Commission for improvements to that section of the trail within its jurisdiction.
If the Gorge Commission gives the project its blessing, "the Forest Service and State Parks intend to jointly apply for local government land use approvals through the Klickitat County regulatory process," Petersen said.
"Those approvals, including both shoreline and zoning actions, require a local public review process and all interested parties will be able to participate in that process," she added.
Lyle resident Jim Minick, president of the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, a non-profit trail advocacy group, recently told the Goldendale Sentinel his organization is "strongly in favor of the Forest Service and State Parks plan."
"It's part of the process to hold public hearings to gather and glean information so everyone is on the same page," he said. "The Forest Service had a plan in place for the top half of the trail and State Parks has taken it as their own. We welcome that."
The trail's legitimacy, however, is being challenged by opponents who own land adjacent to the railbanked corridor. They are waiting for their petition to the federal Surface Transportation Board to be heard.