The Odessa Record -

John Wayne Trail needs preservation


Member of the Tekoa City Council and president of the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association.

During the final budget conferences of the 2015 legislative session, behind closed doors, Representative Joe Schmick (9th District, Colfax) placed into the capital budget a proviso that took 135 miles of the John Wayne Trail, 6,000 acres of parkland, and gave it away, at no cost, to 200 adjacent property owners. It was a land grab done without any public announcement or input.

When asked later why he made such a move to close the statewide trail forever in the shadow of secrecy rather than the openness of democracy, he said he did not want to waste his fellow legislators’ time by having a hearing for such a trivial matter. And when asked why he did not bother to inform his own constituents, many of which are trail users, he said that we could go look it up on line if we wanted to. You can find it online, if you read the capital budget carefully, in section 3121(3) on page 118 of the 280-page document.

It is the fundamental duty of any legislator to both inform and listen to his constituents, all of them, not just a particular group of supporters. Legislators are elected to be our ears and voice in Olympia. Rep. Schmick has failed to fulfill this basic duty of his office, but there may still be time to repair the damage.

Despite his best efforts to decimate the trail, Rep. Schmick met a road block in the form of a simple typo. The proviso incorrectly named the points of the trail to be closed, thus nullifying the law enacted when the budget passed. For now, the trail remains open.

If you have never visited the John Wayne Trail, please do. It is the largest rail-to-trail conversion in the nation, one of only two cross-state trails in America, and is over 280 miles long. Starting just southeast of Seattle, you can bike, ride a horse or hike all the way to the Idaho border on an isolated path shut to motorized vehicles. It begins in thick woodlands rich with lakes and rivers, then winds through the dramatic and harsh terrain of the scablands and ends in some of the most peaceful pastoral settings our state has to offer. Every mile is solemnly tranquil and offers dramatic vistas. It is used by thousands annually, including horse riders, hikers, cross-country bicyclists, the Boy Scouts of America, The John Wayne Pioneer Trail Riders and many more.

It is also one of the few places where you can readily see the scablands, a terrain so rare geologically it exists only along the John Wayne Trail and on the planet Mars. Young Washington geologists travel the trail every year for training. It is rich with the cultural heritage of our state. Recently, the Ralston Grange restored an old railway station on the trail.

Most importantly to me, it ends in my small town of Tekoa (population 843). A large sign as you enter Tekoa says “Welcome to the End of the John Wayne Trail.” It is important to our identity and our economy. Rep. Schmick must have passed that sign on his way to our town parade this past July.

We learned about this tragedy in September. While attending the Palouse Empire Fair, where my daughter was showing her 4-H sheep, I stopped by Rep. Schmick’s booth and asked him if he got the trestle-shaped cookies my wife had baked and mailed to him. I wanted to thank him for his support for our efforts to get funding for the Tekoa Trestle. He said he would support that end of the trail, but planned to reintroduce legislation to close the trail from the Columbia River to Malden. This was shocking news, up to that moment known only to a handful of people.

Two days later, after Tekoa Mayor John Jaeger spoke with Rep. Schmick, the Tekoa city council passed a resolution asking that the trail be kept open and better funded. Since then, there has been something of an uproar in the Palouse, with lots of news articles, emergency town meetings and a supporting resolution from the City of Spokane.

In all fairness, my conversation with Rep. Schmick brought out some very good points regarding his motivations for closing the trail. Adjacent land owners have had to endure some real problems. The state has neglected fence lines and noxious weed control and recently imposed upon farmers a fee for using the trail to transport equipment.

Recently, we met with Rep. Schmick, and he agreed to hold three meetings with the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association to solicit public comment. The meetings are in November. Afterwards there will still be time for Rep. Schmick to introduce legislation for the 2016 session to address the needs of the trail. Two of the public comment meetings were held in Rosalia November 10 and Lind November 16. A final meeting will be held in Ellensburg, Monday, November 23, at 6 p.m. at the Hal Holmes Center (209 N Ruby St.). Those unable to attend a meeting may email their concerns to

At these meetings, the TTTA will advocate for 11 key points as the basis for a bill to solve the problems of the John Wayne Trail for landowners and trail users alike:

1. improve noxious weed spraying

2. reinstate ranger service

3. repair Cow Creek trestle

4. eliminate permits for users

5. eliminate fees for farmers moving equipment on the trail

6. restore the Tekoa trestle

7. litter patrols (Adopt-a-Trail)

8. repair Columbia River crossing

9. rock slide removal and gravel grading

10. install, maintain fences

11. install additional trailheads, water stations, bathrooms

We hope that Rep. Schmick will seek sufficient funding to repair the trail and protect landowners. To close the trail would be a tragic permanent loss to our state and our small town. To do nothing at all will only exasperate the sufferings of adjacent landowners. The best path forward is to repair the trail.

To those who object to the expenditure of any money on such projects, I only ask that they not allow their well-placed conservative values to relegate eastern Washington to second-class citizenry. West of the Columbia River the trail is in pristine condition, with trailheads maintained, weeds sprayed, fences in good repair, trestles finished and ranger patrols active. There are no complaints from nearby landowners there. Only here in eastern Washington does the trail need to be refurbished. We seek no new taxes, just the same level of support for our end of this statewide trail.

The future of our state’s trail is now in the hands of one man. What will our representative do? I don’t have any idea. But I wish our town was not so dependent upon the goodwill of one man who has not demonstrated a history of support for the trail.

If you are a Washington citizen in support of our trail, please come to our meetings, we need you. If you are a city council member, help us by passing a resolution similar to Tekoa’s and Spokane’s. And if you are a member of the Washington state legislature, please do whatever you can to help save the trail.

Ted Blaszak can be contacted at on Facebook at the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association.


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