The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners has gone on record as supporting development of three important portions of the Klickitat Rail-Trail between Lyle and Klickitat.
The commissioners' move lends key support to development of the trail, which was formed from the right of way of the former Burlington Northern Railroad line that ran from Lyle to Goldendale. Much of the scenic route parallels the Klickitat River.
In a Jan. 13 letter to U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R.-Wash.), the commissioners listed three specific trail projects they wanted to see gain federal funding from the proposed economic stimulus package being considered by Congress.
"The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners is pleased to offer this letter of support toward the development of the Klickitat Trail for the benefit of Klickitat County," read an excerpt. "There are three specific projects along the trail which we lend our support to that are ready to proceed if they could be added to the proposed federal Economic Stimulus Package. The three projects we support are: 1) paving the first two miles of the trail, from Lyle to the Fisher Hill Road; 2) paving the trail through the town of Klickitat; and 3) decking the Fisher Hill Trestle. The improvements as proposed for the trail will not only provide an economic benefit to the residents of Klickitat County and this region of Washington, but it will also provide a unique recreational facility and opportunities for the Lyle and Klickitat communities."
The letter was signed by all three commissioners -- Chairman David Sauter, Ray Thayer, and Rex Johnston.
On Jan. 23, however, a spokesperson for Rep. Hastings said the bill does not delineate which projects might be funded by the bill making its way through Congress.
"The text of the House stimulus bill was released yesterday (Jan. 22); it does not include earmarks for any specific projects," explained Jessica Gleason, a spokesperson in Hastings' Washington, D.C., office.
The tracks were removed from the roadbed in 1993, and a proposed scenic trail along portions of the route has long been debated in the county. At one point, former County Commissioner Joan Frey had called for the Fisher Hill railroad bridge to be removed -- a move trail proponents perceived as a way to kill the trail project.
County Commissioner Rex Johnston said the commissioners have never been against the trail per se.
"Nobody is opposing it," Johnston said. "That has been a misimpression some people have. None of the commissioners are against the trail. Dave [Sauter] and I have both hiked there. Former Commissioner Joan Frey supports it too, and she's still very influential. But we are opposed to running roughshod over the people who live there along the trail."
Johnston explained that if the proper permitting procedures are followed and the rights of adjacent property owners are protected, the trail can go forward with the county's blessing.
"Trail proponents have to have a title search and surveys," Johnston said.
Johnston pointed to the recent letter of support for paving and decking along the trail as an example of what is possible if the agencies managing the trail work together.
"It's just a matter of having the state and federal agencies go through the process. They have to comply with county ordinances. That's all we ask," Johnston said. "All the projects included in this letter have gone through the process and are cleared. We give our support when they do it right. But if they try to do this without going through the proper procedures, that's when we come into conflict."
Bob Hansen, a Lyle resident and member of the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, said support for the trail appears to be growing as time goes on.
"The Lyle Community Council also endorsed paving the first two miles of the Klickitat Trail, from SR 14 to Fisher Hill Road Bridge," Hansen said.
Hansen praised County Commissioner David Sauter in particular for his efforts to resolve controversies related to the trail.
"Commissioner Sauter coordinated this effort with present and past County Commissioners to make sure all were comfortable with these improvements for the community," Hansen explained. "I think there are many potential Klickitat Trail cooperative efforts possible between all parties involved, including the Klickitat County Commissioners, Washington State Parks, the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, and the Forest Service."
Johnston added that development of the stretch of trail between the Fisher Hill Bridge and Klickitat is still under discussion, with issues yet to be worked out.