Thanks to the community-minded efforts of numerous volunteers and the visionary support of two-thirds of Clark County’s commissioners, the Chelatchie Prairie Rail With Trail project has begun. NW Construction General Contracting Inc. of Battle Ground has started clearing the way for a one-mile paved trail that will extend southwest from the entrance road inside Battle Ground Lake State Park to Washington State Department of Natural Resources land. The trail is being built along county-owned railroad tracks that were built several decades ago for hauling logs from the northeast portion of Clark County.
This project is just a tiny portion of the planned 33-mile trail from Chelatchie Prairie to near Vancouver Lake, at the intersection of Northwest 78th Street and Lake Shore Avenue.
Credit is due County Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt for helping the project get started. Opposition from Commissioner Tom Mielke makes no more sense now than it did two and a half years ago. According to a Columbian story by Stephanie Rice, Mielke now opposes the trail because he is concerned about what property owners who live near the railroad will think about a public trail. We suspect all but the most cantankerous residents will love having a hiking trail that is so accessible. Completion of this first segment should be in the fall.
Mielke’s stubborn resistance in 2009 was based on his complaint that “there is a reason why we don’t have walkways along railroads, and that’s because they don’t mix well.” And, as we editorialized back then, Mielke seemingly doesn’t understand that there are more than 200 rails-with-trails projects in America, offering more than 2,000 miles for walkers, cyclists and others. One in Michigan is 57 miles. One in Illinois has nine trains per hour (the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad averages about one per week).
Fortunately, Stuart, Boldt and many local trails advocates understand the potential of the Chelatchie Prairie Rail With Trail. The only frustrating aspect of this project is that it will probably take shape over many years, incrementally, as funding becomes available. Ultimately, according to guidelines in the Chelatchie Prairie Rail With Trail Corridor Plan, it will “connect major recreational destinations such as Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway, Battle Ground Lake State Park and Moulton Falls Regional Park.” That plan also specifies the goals of increasing the rate of bicycling, walking and horseback riding in Clark County. The planned trail runs within one mile of 20 percent of the county’s population.
This initial phase is costing $406,800, provided by a state grant that totals $1 million for the first three miles of the project. The tracks are used for light-industrial rail commerce from Burnt Bridge Creek to south of Heisson, and excursion trains from Yacolt are operated by the Battle Ground, Yacolt and Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Association. The Clark County Executive Horse Council plans an adjacent 4-foot-wide, soft-surface trail for horseback riders and joggers.
Others who have earned praise for advancing this project include former county commissioner and parks department employee Vern Veysey, regional trail planner Lisa Goorjian of Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation, and project manager Troy Pierce of Clark County Public Works.
For more information about the trail project, visit http://www.co.clark.wa.us/publicworks/chelatchie/maps.html.