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Chamber poll shows broad support for Rail with Trail project

Kathleen Ellyn

Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on October 11, 2016 2:46PM

Last changed on October 14, 2016 12:49PM

The proposed trail would provide hikers with views of farmland and the Wallowas as it heads south from the Green Valley Road crossing just outside of Enterprise.

Ellen Bishop/For The Chieftain

The proposed trail would provide hikers with views of farmland and the Wallowas as it heads south from the Green Valley Road crossing just outside of Enterprise.

The Joseph Branch Rail with Trail project recently received a resounding vote of confidence in an informal poll of business owners.

The results of the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce’s first online poll of members indicates that the overwhelming majority of the 125 members who responded support the Joseph Branch Rail with Trail project. A majority of members also support the chamber in actively promoting the project.

The six-stage Rail with Trail project potentially would run from Elgin to Joseph when completed. For now, the focus is on the Joseph-to-Enterprise segment of the trail.

Thirty-four percent of chamber members voted in the online poll. Past votes taken by mail or at meetings have seen a just 5-9 percent voter involvement.

The poll closed Sept. 30 and results were published in the chamber newsletter shortly afterward.

Of those who responded, 72.8 percent of business owners supported the entire Elgin-to-Joseph project. Another 11.2 percent supported segments of the trail. Opposition accounted for 10.4 percent of the vote, and 5.6 percent had no comment.

Business owners who supported only segments mostly indicated that their approval went to the Joseph-to-Enterprise portion of the trail. The Enterprise-to-Lostine and Lostine-to-Minam portions also garnered substantial support.

The top two reasons given for support were that the trail would create a place for families and children to exercise while providing an amenity for tourists that would give them reason to stay longer. Other benefits included connection of the communities in new ways, a place for seniors and disabled to walk, personal use for exercise and a safer route for commuting.

The top reasons for opposition included concerns over litter or damage to private property, concerns about maintenance and future funding, concerns about interruption or danger to agricultural operations and a desire to maintain roadless sections of the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers.

All concerns will be addressed as the plan moves forward, according to Terry Edvalson, Joseph Branch Trail Consortium Project Coordinator.

To that end, the Maintenance and Management Committee, which is an independent citizens committee, continues to work with the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) to advise on policy and procedures related to management and maintenance.

The WURA board confirmed last May that it would be responsible for the development and management of the trail and that it had submitted applications to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (USFHA) for funding of the Joseph-to-Enterprise segment. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also has offered the use of Marr Pond recreation area as a trailhead in Enterprise.

Representatives of the USFHA have since come out for a site tour, Edvalson said.

“We still need to come up with that match,” Edvalson said. “We’ll be providing an update on financing at an upcoming public meeting.”

The Joseph Branch Trail Consortium oversaw the creation of a database of landowners with properties adjacent to the rail so as to keep them all in the loop, and has provided landowners multiple opportunities to discuss concerns. Those concerns serve as a basis for refining policies and principles within the management and maintenance plans, Edvalson said.

“We’re looking at positive mitigation strategies in our discussions,” said Edvalson. “That will be ongoing. You have to maintain good relationships with your neighbors.”

Edvalson recently announced a workshop scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Tomas Conference Room, 309 S. River Street in Enterprise. Attendees will hear a review of the Anderson Perry and Associates design engineering report, which includes a discussion of wetlands, environmental conditions and a recommended placement of the trail along the route between Joseph and Enterprise. An update on the financial situation also will be provided, and the draft management plan will be discussed with opportunities for public comment before the plan is presented to the WURA board.

The plans as they have progressed will be available for review online at www.jsephbranchtrail.org beginning Oct. 17, and hard copies will be placed at public libraries, city halls and county commissioners’ offices.

State trails council to meet in Joseph

The Oregon Recreational Trails Advisory Council will meet from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14 at the Joseph Community Center.

The council invites public comments. The agenda includes presentations from local trail advocates and land managers about trail projects and initiatives in the area.

The council will be reviewing the Ridge Trail in Eugene as a candidate for Regional Trail Designation.

The Oregon Recreational Trails Advisory Council (ORTAC) was established by the legislature in 1971 to advise the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and to promote non-motorized trail recreation and development in Oregon.

The council is made up of seven volunteer members appointed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission to represent the five Oregon congressional districts.

The council meets four times annually in different locations across the state. For more information about the meeting or about ORTAC, contact David Stipe, Integrated Park Services Manager, at 503-986-0740 or david.stipe@oregon.gov.


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