Editorial – Trail of Dispute: Ferry County

As you read this the rail ties are coming up on an amazing 28-mile stretch of train tracks in Ferry County, WA. This soon-to-be-trail traces a scenic route from Republic to the Canadian border and passes Curlew Lake, rivers, tunnels, forests and train trestles along the way. Over the last year a local coalition, Ferry County Rail Trail, has worked to rally support of rail banking the trail in order to create a recreation jewel, that not only would benefit local residents, but promises to draw hikers, cyclist, skiers, snowshoers and equestrian users from all over.

But a funny thing happened on the way to creating a rails to trails paradise. This spring one of Ferry County’s three commissioners voiced his support for making the trail multi-use. The term “multi-use” seems innocuous, but what it really means is motorized vehicles allowed. Goodbye serene hiking, biking and skiing. Good luck finding a horseback rider who’d want to share the trail with an ATV.

Can you blame the 200-plus landowners that abut the trail, some with houses within 40 feet of it, for feeling a bit duped after supporting a trail thinking it would be non-motorized, and now hearing they might be waking up to scent of two-stroke engine oil?

“The vast majority of rails to trails projects are non-motorized,” says Ben Gettleman at the Rails to Trails Conservancy. Gettleman feels the Ferry County situation is very interesting because it appears that the majority of residences favor the non-motorized trail. Some folks are scratching their heads about why anyone would want a motorized trail on the rail bed. The qualities that make it great for non-motorized use-being straight and flat-would also seem to make it utterly boring for ATVs and trail bikes.

“We are eager to work on this thing,” says Ferry County Rail Trail president Bob Whitaker. He is not just excited about the tourism possibilities, he also envisions seeking multiple funding sources from programs like Safe Routes to Schools if the trail stays non-motorized. But for now it’s all wait-and-see, as, apparently, the Ferry County Commissioners feel they can make a decision on motorization without public vote.

No one is giving up on the non-motorized trail yet. “If it comes to fruition it will be so beautiful,” says Whitaker.

Check out: http://www.ferrycountyrailtrail.com http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/mapsdata/tdo/accidentbicycle.htm

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