Members of the Lyle Community Trails Committee and community gathered Wednesday, July 1, at Lyle’s Activity Center to discuss a proposed trail system for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Cherry Orchard and adjacent Department of Natural Resources property.
The meeting was the result of the Lyle Community Trails subcommittee working together to form proposals for a new trail system in Lyle.
The proposed trail system would be installed on the 550-acre Cherry Orchard property owned by Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and approximately 415 acres of adjacent DNR land, south of the Centerville highway.
Dan Miller of the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance walked participants through the progress made in planning for the trail system’s installation.
Kate McBride and Renee Tkach, project manager for the Gorge Towns to Trails, and both of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, were also present for the meeting.
Miller stressed to those attending that the project is in its infant stages and won’t see any ground breaking for at least a year, maybe more depending on permitting for the trails.
The meeting began with Miller explaining background on the project to about 15 attendants, a mix of committee members and Lyle residents. The subcommittee was self-appointed.
Subcommittee members were tasked with discussing trail options, and hiking the properties to determine possible trail routes.
“One of the first things that we did was find out environmental restrictions… Well, the first thing we did was get folks out to inventory the land.” Miller explained, each person on the subcommittee was tasked with finding their vision, or their view, and determining how that could be achieved.
Wildlife surveys were conducted on the parcels to determine any sensitive areas within the acreage. The costs of the surveys on the DNR and Cherry Orchard property were covered by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
“What they came up with is these buffer areas that we totally stay clear of,” Miller said, a few areas were sketched out by Fish and Wildlife as places to avoid when developing the trail system. The areas provide ideal habitat for Western gray squirrels.
With the completion of the wildlife survey, and subcommittee members contributing their trail system ideas, a basic overall sketch was mapped out and presented to those attending the meeting.
Miller presented a variety of maps that showed different options for the trail system. Map four exhibited the proposed hiking trail to span the Friend’s Cherry Orchard property (reference picture).
Map six shows the proposed multiuse trail that would utilize existing DNR roads (reference picture). The anticipated trail system is estimated to stretch about six to ten miles, approximately seven and a half miles are nonmotarized access trails.
In both pictured maps the grayed-out purplish zones are the areas to avoid when installing the finalized route.
“Any trail development on DNR land is a long way out, like, several years,” Miller warned. DNR has their hands full with other projects and won’t be taking this one on for a while explained Miller.
Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, a nonprofit group that works towards building and maintaining mountain bike trails in the state of Washington, has agreed to partner with DNR and help build trails once DNR is ready to take on the task.
“Because DNR isn’t ready yet, I worked with Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Washington Trails Association, to come up with a game plan of which trails could be developed without developing the trails on DNR land. Which means hiker only right now, because there isn’t enough mileage to develop a trail on Friends of the Columbia Gorge property,” Miller explained as he presented the ‘Hiker only trails on Cherry Orchard Property’ map.
The proposed trail on Cherry Orchard will be signed for hikers only until the extension trail is added, then mountain bikers will be permitted to ride on the path.
The next step for the project is to have Washington’s Trail Association and Friends of the Columbia Gorge go out to survey and flag the proposed trail.
Once the surveying is done a historical resources consultant will be hired to hike the flagged trail and determine if any historical sites are present along the course, which would result in the trail’s rerouting.
After modifications are made to meet historical resource findings, the finalized trail system will be submitted to the Department of Ecology for a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review before being approved or denied.
Miller estimates the waiting time for the permit may be a year, or longer.
Those who attended the meeting expressed some concern with the proposed trail leading to users trespassing on private property. Kate McBride, of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and Miller explained that appropriate signage would be utilized to discourage users from deviating from the marked trail.
There was some speculation to whether the trail would impair viewings of Lyle’s sign on the hill, Miller dispelled those worries by saying that the trail system was designed with the Lyle sign in mind and won’t inhibit its view.
Miller wrapped up the meeting reminding everyone that this was the beginning of the project and nothing was finalized.
“There’s a chance that [the trails] are going to be tweaked,” Miller said.