Two state House Republicans, Joe Schmick (9th district) and Mary Dye (also 9th district), have proposed scrapping a significant chunk of the Iron Horse State Park Trail. In the plan, the 2015-17 capital budget called for the state to transfer ownership of part of the trail to adjacent landowners “to improve noxious weed control and achieve improved land stewardship and wild fire response.”
I’ve run, and ridden parts of this section of the John Wayne trail and I can confirm that it is not well used, however, deciding to scrap this piece of historic Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad seems about as effective as giving Wilderness to mining companies. Yes, we know that it’s not well used. That’s never been the point.
Both members point to the “cost” of trail maintenance while never actually acknowledging what maintenance on this disused segment might run the State. Ted Blaszak, a councilman and president of the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association, is quoted in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, saying it’s “a blatant land grab … nothing less than public thievery.”
And while I cannot comment on the veracity of this claim it the land transfer, what amounts to little more than a gift of public land to private owners, seems suspicious.
Given the potential earning power of this trail, this appears to be another fine example of Republican budgetary myopia. The economic impact of the tourism this trail, especially in its entirety, might have far outweighs the maintenance costs the State has, up to this point, completely ignored.
Ask yourself, “where are all those piles of tumbleweed coming from?” The railroad grade certainly isn’t growing them, and nothing is stopping the same adjacent landowners from being good stewards of this public land as-is. Or “why have the tressels along this route fallen into decay?” You’d think that if the capital budget had contained even a little money for maintenance this might not be the case. At 253 miles, it’s the nation’s longest rail-trail conservancy easement and if that weren’t enough every segment along its length is rich with tourist attracting history.
The fact that Schmick and Dye have completely missed this obvious opportunity is telling. Why is Eastern Washington such an economic wasteland?” Ladies and gentlemen, you have your answer.