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A County Gem

Editorial for Jan. 20, 2011

The newly re-decked Fisher Hill Trestle just north of Lyle is a Klickitat County gem, and residents came close to never seeing it.

On Jan. 6, Washington State Parks and U.S. Forest Service representatives formally opened the 315-foot bridge to public use. The bridge -- an old railroad trestle -- was fully reconfigured with a solid walkway and high, sturdy railings to accommodate hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.

The bridge, which crosses high over the Klickitat River, is now an integral part of the Klickitat Rail-Trail, a scenic trail that runs from a new trailhead in Lyle, through the town of Klickitat, and on as far as Warwick.

The view from the bridge is tremendous. Far below is the raging Klickitat River, which rushes through a narrow channel in that area. The first 17 miles of the Klickitat Rail-Trail follows the river, which has gained "wild and scenic" status. Big salmon can be seen from the bridge, and bald eagles are often present as well.

Having the bridge intact immensely enhances the trail experience. Previously, users of the trail needed to make a detour onto State Route 142 and up Fisher Hill Road to get across the river.

This trail is likely to be a significant tourist attraction. Here is how the Seattle-based Washington Trails Association describes the route: "The Klickitat Rail Trail is a recent addition to Washington's rails-to-trails network, and is a fantastic destination for people seeking a great hike on the sunny side of the Cascades and Columbia River."

The bridge at Fisher Hill, a couple miles north of Lyle, used to be part of Burlington Northern's Goldendale Branch, a meandering 31-mile line between Lyle and Goldendale. In many places, the tracks ran right alongside the wonderfully scenic Klickitat River, and also passed through Swale Canyon. With declining business along the line -- and in particular the early 1990s closure of the big Champion lumber mill at Klickitat -- freight traffic on the line ground to a halt, and the railroad subsequently abandoned the route. When the rails were pulled up in 1993, it appeared that the once-vital right of way would be forgotten.

However, some local residents had a vision of turning that former railroad grade into a ready-made hiking, biking, and horseback riding trail. They formed the Klickitat Trail Conservancy and pursued their dream. After more than a decade of effort and after struggling through a surprising level of opposition and controversy, a trail was finally created where the railroad once operated.

Now, with the opening of the bridge at Fisher Hill, the first 13 miles of that route -- between Lyle and Klickitat -- becomes much more accessible and user-friendly. In early January, the county unveiled a gem that will no doubt be enjoyed by thousands of people in the years to come.

JB

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