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September meetings will help plan Salmonberry Corridor Rail Trail

Posted by on August 28th, 2013 at 9:56 am

Vernonia Overnighter

A proposed Salmonberry trail would link to the existing
Banks-Vernonia Trail 25 miles northwest of Portland.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

A proposed 86-mile rail-to-trail project that would link Washington County to the Pacific Coast is the subject of two public meetings next month at either end of the future route.

The trail, whose cost would run into the tens of millions, has attracted early attention from touring organization Cycle Oregon and important legislators like state Sen. Betsey Johnson (D-Scappoose), who said in an interview last year that a trail through the Salmonberry River Valley would open up “some of the most beautiful land anywhere” to personal travel.

“I used to go up there before I was a legislator, when I had a life,” Johnson said.

The route would connect to the popular Banks-Vernonia trail and probably replace a handful of highways as the best way to reach the coast by bike, foot or horse.

“If I were a bicycle rider, and I’m not, but if I were a bicycle rider I would not want to be watching somebody else’s rear end along a narrow rocky shoulder,” Johnson said. “I’d rather be out in the magnificence of the coast range next to a roaring river.”

Detail of Salmonberry Corridor Rail Trail Concept. (PDF)

The trail would replace a remote railroad that has been shut down by multiple bouts of flooding. Backers aim to have a master plan in place by 2014, at which point they can start piecing together funding for the trail.

“The Vernonia trail was a cakewalk compared to this,” Tillamook County Commissioner Mark Labhart, who also supports the project, said last year.

The hearings are:

— Sept. 11, from 6 to 8 p.m., in Tillamook at the Oregon Department of Forestry, 500 3rd Street.

— Sept. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m., in Banks at Banks Fire Hall, 300 Main Street.

They’re the first of a series of planned meetings to advance the route and its design. You can learn more at the project’s website.

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  • fiets503 August 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I can’t wait to ride this trail! It will be a world class travel destination AND a more convenient, safer, and beautiful way to get to the coast under our own power.

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  • David August 28, 2013 at 10:08 am

    This would be amazing

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  • Zach August 28, 2013 at 10:32 am

    So excited! As it stands right now, I just can’t bring myself to brave those highways out to the coast yet (and I’m sure I’m in good company); there’s no doubt, in my mind at least, that this trail will be well used if it comes to fruition.

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  • Michael Wolfe August 28, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I am all for this trail. But I guess I fail to see how a trail would be less prone to the washouts and flooding that have made the original rail line so expensive (and ultimately impossible) to maintain. Can someone affiliated with this proposal tell me why this isn’t a concern?

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    • Dan August 28, 2013 at 10:42 am

      I was wondering the same thing…won’t washouts/flooding be just as much of a concern? Is it cheap enough to build bike / ped bridges that they’ll just bridge those areas?

      Having said that…I would LOVE to ride this trail.

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      • Bill August 28, 2013 at 11:58 am

        Yeah, a bike tourer with all the fixen’s is probably max at 400 lbs. A locomotive starts around 180,000 lbs. Very different engineering problem.

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        • Alan 1.0 August 28, 2013 at 12:26 pm

          Agreed, very different (and that’s even considering horses at maybe 400kg/m), and also less restricted in radius and grade so it’s easier to squeeze into smaller, more stable areas. Presumably adjacent slopes won’t be clear-cut, either, and that helps soil stability. I don’t doubt it will be challenging but it is more flexible than the rail grade.

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      • matt picio August 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm

        The railroad was shut down because replacing a damaged trestle would cost tens of millions of dollars. A trail could be routed down into the valley and back up with switchbacks, for a hundred thousand or less in most cases, about 1/500th the cost of a new trestle.

        It’s still not an insignificant concern, however – it will still cost tens of thousands of dollars a year potentially in order to keep it open. (on average) That said, an asphalt road lasts 20 years at $120,000 per lane mile – a cost of $6,000 per year PER MILE. This trail would be super-cheap by comparison.

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        • Joseph E August 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm

          Is pavement of rural roads that cheap still? I read numbers closer to $500,000 per lane-mile to repave a road, recently, and that’s how much it seems to cost the city of Portland. New trails seem to cost about $1 million per mile, due to the cost of grading and drainage, in addition to the cost of pavement; about twice the cost of repaving an existing lane.
          Do you have a better source for current prices? I’m too lazy to look. 🙂

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        • wsbob August 29, 2013 at 11:05 am

          I think the Salmonberry trail idea is a great one. What I haven’t read so far, is whether the thinking is that this trail could be built and and function well as a dirt trail rather than asphalt paved. Wet, muddy in winter, dusty, dirty in summer…I suppose not. Laying down and maintaining the asphalt is what’s difficult and expensive,

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 28, 2013 at 10:55 am

      It is definitely a concern, one raised somewhat in the recent feasibility study:


      I haven’t read the full study, but I suspect that this is a major issue that this planning process will try to address.

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    • Chris I August 28, 2013 at 11:54 am

      Railroads must cut a relatively straight route through terrain without very gradual incline changes. A trail can take sharp turns, have dips, crests, etc to avoid some of the areas that have been prone to washout. There are a few sections of the Banks Vernonia trail that illustrate this. That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems, but you are talking about repairs in the thousands vs. repairs in the millions of dollars for a railroad washout.

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    • thomas kraker December 30, 2013 at 11:05 pm

      You are absolutely right Michael. Did you know it would be cheaper to fix the rail line as opposed to building a bike path?

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      • Alan 1.0 December 31, 2013 at 10:57 pm

        What is your source for that claim?

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  • Terry D August 28, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Long tem the investment would pay for itself in international and regional tourism dollars….assuming ODOT gets its act together when to comes to repaving shoulders.

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    • matt picio August 28, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      ODOT’s not really relevant here. There are plenty of accessibility points to this route which are not dependent on state roads.

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      • Terry D August 29, 2013 at 11:00 am

        I was talking more about HYW 101 on the coast. It is useless to have an international quality trail that dead ends on a dangerous road.

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  • Mike August 28, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Sounds great, but really, there are plenty of awesome rides on rural roads and gravel that are free. What are we trying to accomplish exactly? I’d much rather the millions be spent improving our bike infrastructure in the urban environment and connections through suburbia to these rides if the $ is limited.


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    • Terry D August 28, 2013 at 11:24 am

      I for one would not ride a gravel road in the middle of no-where fully loaded with camping gear. I agree that with limited transportation funding, urban center conductivity should be prioritized, but this should be also looked upon as a long term financial investment for the state. Private sector investment should be leveraged. Maybe if we think creatively this can be built more quickly with a public-private partnership of some sort once a plan is finalized.

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      • Suburban August 28, 2013 at 11:31 am

        Some of my best friends won’t ride gravel roads in the middle of nowhere fully loaded with camping gear. I look forward to hanging out with them for a while this winter.

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    • Chris I August 28, 2013 at 11:56 am

      Ideally, these projects would not be competing with urban projects for funding, just as city street repaving should not be competing with highway repaving. You should argue for more dedicated ODOT statewide pedestrian/bike funding if you don’t want this detracting from urban improvement efforts.

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    • adventure! August 28, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Mike, the one thing about the Salmonberry Corridor vs the route you show is the Salmonberry will have pretty gentle grades, relatively speaking, due to it being an abandoned railway. I looked at the elevation profile on your route and there are some pretty brutal parts, especially that section between mile 21 and 24. There the route climbs (or drops) two thousand feet in elevation in three miles. Most people on loaded bikes (myself included) are not going to want to do something like that.

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    • matt picio August 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm


      This would be a safe route all the way to the coast for road riders, touring cyclists, etc. Some 4,000-6,000 riders a year ride the TransAmerica route from the Oregon coast inland and across the USA. This would provide a much safer, beautiful and pleasant alternative. Who knows, perhaps the Adventure Cycling Association would change the TransAm route to use this alignment instead – they’ve altered their routes before.

      It would also be a major tourism draw for Banks, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Wheeler, Nehalem, etc. If completed, one could ride a bike from the end of the MAX in Hillsboro with a sleeping bag and a tent and ride to Banks & Stub Stewart, then out to the coast to camp in Nehalem and hike to Neahkahnie Mountain, all car-free. It would be a major route with no significant elevation challenges.

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  • El Biciclero August 28, 2013 at 11:08 am

    If the railroad was shut down by “multiple bouts of flooding”, what will prevent any new trail from being washed out by future “bouts of flooding”?

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    • El Biciclero August 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

      That’s what I get for taking too long to hit “post”. I see this has been asked and answered above…

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  • Allan August 28, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I think this will be another good option for getting to the coast. Perhaps the best one at the time of its completion. but the Nehalem river route has so little traffic that it already can be useful. Having 2 or more routes allows folks to make a loop route of it so I am all for more coastal connections

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  • Allan August 28, 2013 at 11:19 am

    ack. Nestucca river route

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    • LoveDoctor August 28, 2013 at 11:28 am

      Nestucca is a really nice route, but a heck of a climb. I wonder if the proposed route has less elevation change? Another good thing about Nestucca is that there are a couple of campsites near the peak. Hopefully Salmonberry will eventually have similar camping/amenities along the route.

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      • matt picio August 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm

        The proposed route has no grades in excess of 4.5%. Nestucca River has a 9%+ grade when riding west. Max elevation on Nestucca is 2,100′. Max elevation on Salmonberry is about 1,900′.

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    • Chris I August 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

      Combine the two and you have a world-class Portland to Coast loop ride.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 28, 2013 at 11:41 am

    As for washouts and such…there may be slight variations in routes or design standards that may allow more affordable facilities serving cyclists/ pedestrians vs. freight trains…thus allowing for continued transportation use vs. closure.

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    • Alex Reed August 28, 2013 at 11:59 am

      As evidence of this, the route is currently navigable by an intrepid pedestrian and would be navigable by bicycle (walk your bike in a few washouts & stream crossings) if there were a paved or graved path for the non-washout portions rather than alder-infested railroad tracks 🙂

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  • Supercourse August 28, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    I’am 66 years, old or young. Hoping it’s finished for my hundredth birthday ride!

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  • Joseph E August 28, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    This rail-trail would be a great route, and worth it for the tourism draw alone.

    In the meantime, here are two lower-traffic routes to get to the coast from Portland, courtesy of PBOT: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/301633#route details

    Route 1: Hillsboro to Vernonia to Astoria via Nehalem River (100 miles):
    http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/36638?a=316550 part 2

    There is also Route 3: Hillsboro to 3 Capes via the Nestucca River, which has even lighter traffic, but a bigger hill and a couple of miles of gravel, 80 miles to the coast:

    If you want to get to the coast from Corvallis, Roseburg or Grants Pass, there are several other very low traffic, but hilly, options:


    We took the first part of the Coos Bay Wagon Road last week for our bike tour, from Roseburg to Sitkum, and then low-traffic roads to the coast. The 10% grade climb up to 2400 feet was tough, and there were 10 miles of gravel, but traffic is very very light, until west of Myrtle Point, where there was moderate traffic on Hwy 42S: http://goo.gl/maps/oQ1Dp

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  • Garlynn August 29, 2013 at 11:09 am

    In the ODOT Hwy 101 shoulder paving thread, I just asked whether we should be considering non-highway-shoulder routes along the Oregon Coast for bikes. Then I saw this post. This is what I’m talking about! Sure, it only runs from Nehalem to Tillamook along the coast — but, it will get you from Washington County to the coast as well. A VERY good start!

    Of course, admitting that this alignment will never again be used for rail transport opens up the much more expensive question of building a new rail alignment to the Coast for economic development purposes / allowing carbon-free transport to Coastal destinations. That can be answered at another time. For now, let’s push to get this project funded and built, and also advocate for new campgrounds, picnic areas and hiking trails to special places along the alignment. Are there waterfalls within a few miles of the alignment that could be opened up for the public to see with new hiking trails?

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  • Ted Buehler August 29, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Nice, hope we can support this and get it built in a timely manner.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Mike bodd August 30, 2013 at 5:43 am

    I used to camp along the salmonberry! beautiful along there lets ride!

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  • Felipe September 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    After reading the comments it is pretty clear that many people don’t understand just how prone this area is to landslides and flooding. I suggest you go look at the existing railroad to see what I am talking about. This canyon has super steep walls and there is very little room on the banks for a trail. On top of that the area has major storms once a decade. The storms won’t simply destroy the rail in one place, there will be multiple areas of damage from landslides and washouts and fallen trees. This will cost lots of money to repair and the trail will be shut down for long periods of time. It would be a great route, I agree, but it just isn’t logical. We should think more about a route along an existing highway like Hwy. 6 or 26. If its built here we will have missed the opportunity and lost the money to build the trail in a more feasible location that will last far into the future. I would hate to see it abandoned just like the railroad that is there now.

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    • Alan 1.0 September 6, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      The rail line lasted what? 75 years? It was taken out by a true 100-year storm and even then just lost one critical bridge. The rest of the line survived. I’ve no objection to also having a nice bike route (wide bike lanes or even separated track) alongside highways–that would make a nice round-trip sort of route–but the unique opportunity to have a trail which is as close to a wilderness route as can be found on the wet coast is one I wouldn’t pass up. As discussed above, with more flexibility in design criteria than a rail line, and better soil and forest conservation practices than even 30 years ago, engineers can make it a durable route for generations to come. No trail next to a highway would be comparable to it.

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      • Felipe September 10, 2013 at 10:49 am

        No, look at the history. The rail was destroyed in 1992, 1996 and 2007. Your post makes it even more clear that you don’t know the area. The rail was absolutely mangled by the 1996 and 2007 storms, That is twice in 11 years. There are multiple studies that say the area is especially prone to flooding and landslides because it is SO steep and there is no flood plain to spread out large volumes of water. But its fine, lets blindly push for our trail and snub our noses at mother nature.

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    • Ted Buehler September 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      “but it just isn’t logical. We should think more about a route along an existing highway like Hwy. 6 or 26. ”

      I agree with Alan. Rail trails are much better than highway trails. Easier to install, easier to ride, much more fun to ride.

      The rail line needs to be maintained to be kept open, you can bet that if it was a busy line they would have simply repaired it rather than abandoned it. It was a matter of economics. & if the state can maintain a whole bunch of 2 lane highways between the Willamette Valley and the coast, they can also maintain an additional 1-lane highway for nonmotorized travel.

      Building a trail next to a highway would take a ton of engineering and earthmoving. Take a look at the new trail along I-84 near Cascade Locks. New right-of-way, new grading, storm drainage, new bridges. It’s much easier to convert an existing right of way to a new bicycling facility than it is to build a new one. Even if its miles away from the nearest roads.

      Riding is much better in the wilderness than along a highway. Look at the Cascade Locks I-84 trail again. Its right next to the highway a lot of the way, where the riding conditions are loud, air quality the worst in the gorge, etc. You might get hit by flying debris when cars crash into each other. You can’t carry on a conversation with your buddies. You can’t hear bicycle traffic overtaking from the rear, and pedestrians can’t hear you overtaking them.

      Three thumbs up to a trail to the coast.

      Ted Buehler

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      • Felipe September 10, 2013 at 10:53 am

        They would have repaired the rail line because they would have money for it. There is no guarantee that there is money to continually rebuild the trail. Lets use some common sense here. Flying debris from car accidents? What is more likely, to be hit by that or falling debris from a tree during a storm. On the highway we can clear trees away from the trail to make it safe but next to a river we can’t, that will put wild steelhead spawning beds at risk and there are laws against it.

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