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Loggers, electeds, and riders come together to mark solid progress on Crown Z Trail

Posted by on September 29th, 2020 at 12:23 pm

Ready to cut the ribbon.
Left to Right: Columbia County Facilities & Parks Director Casey Garrett, Mike Pihl Logging Inc. owner Mike Pihl, former Columbia County Commissioner and CZ Trail Advisory Committee Chair Tony Hyde, Columbia County Commissioner Margaret Magruder, CZ Advisory Committee member Dale Latham, County Commissioner Henry Heimuller.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

You know you have something special when a project inspires elected officials and local government leaders to show up and stand in the rain during a pandemic. That’s the power of the Crown Zellerbach Trail, which is finally beginning to live up to its reputation as the crown jewel of Columbia Colunty.

“This is about showcasing our county, our industry, and our collaboration.”
— Margaret Magruder, Columbia County commissioner

In just the latest sign of major momentum for the trail, a few dozen people representing local and statewide agencies met at the Ruley Trailhead on Friday. About 26 miles northwest of Portland, they stood under tents and jacket hoods to thank partners and acknowledge the significant progress this project has made over the past few years.

The Crown Z has been a local gem for decades. Following an old and defunct rail line that used to move logs from timber camps in the hills east to the Columbia River, it connects the growing city of Scappoose to the small town of Vernonia. Up until 2017 the Crown Z was mostly undeveloped. Rockslides and washouts were common, signage and trailheads were all but non-existent, and there was a gap on the western end that required stressful riding on narrow highways. It was a beautiful place to ride, but it’s lack of polish excluded all but the most adventurous riders.

New plaque honors life of Wayne Naillon.

One of its biggest fans was Portland resident Wayne Naillon. Wayne was an active volunteer and a fixture in local trail advocacy circles. In spring of 2016 he went missing. His body was found just off the Crown Z trail a few days later. Wayne died by suicide and a memorial fund in his honor provided the seed money for a $150,000 State of Oregon grant to improve the trail.

Wayne’s friend Dale Latham volunteered to write that grant and has spent several years shepherding it from funding to facilities. Latham was on-hand Friday and almost choked up when he saw a new plaque for Wayne next to the bike repair stand his memorial fund paid for.

The repair stand is just a small part of the upgrades at Ruley Trailhead. As I shared back in June there’s also a restroom, covered picnic areas, historic interpretive signage, a parking lot, and more. The grant also paid for new signage and upgrades to eight trailheads.

At the event Friday, Columbia County Commissioner Margaret Magruder said the Crown Z can help boost tourism and associated revenues, and that it has a role beyond economic impacts. “This is about showcasing our county, our industry, and our collaboration,” she said. Being so close to Portland’s infamous urban-dwellers, the Crown Z has the potential to connect not just places, Magruder said, but more importantly, people.

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The trail goes through the heart of forests that have been logged for well over a century. The land is also home to many people who are part of the Timber Unity movement that sprung up in 2019 to oppose the cap-and-trade emissions reduction plan favored by Oregon Democrats. Timber Unity (which was linked to white supremacy in this Street Roots article) was behind the massive truck convoy that led to a honk-filled rally at the capitol building in Salem back in February.

Mike Pihl.

One of those truck drivers was well-known Vernonia logger (and “Ax Men” reality show star) Mike Pihl, who happens to be Timber Unity board president and a member of the Crown Zellerbach Trail Citizens Advisory Committee.

In a short speech Friday, Pihl said his family is no stranger to trail advocacy. “My dad [Hollie Pihl] started out with the Banks-Vernonia Linear Park and everybody hated him. He went to meetings and people were ready to kill him,” Pihl shared. “But luckily he saw the vision and now it’s so popular it’s unbelievable.”

Pihl said he supports the Crown Z to carry on his dad’s legacy. “I’m also a member of both communities,” he said. “I’m a logger, and I ride a bicycle.”

If Pihl has anything to say about it, his son will continue the family legacy and push for completion of the nearby Salmonberry Trail. With the unqualified success of the Banks-Vernonia, the maturation of the Crown Z, and the exciting first steps of the Salmonberry, we are on the verge of connecting three major trails that will link the Columbia River the the Oregon Coast and the Willamette Valley.

This is what I’m talking about…

(Graphic: BikePortland)

Imagine what these trails can do for so many people and places! Thank you Columbia County and everyone working to make these projects a reality.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

This is very exciting! Great to see people from different backgrounds coming together to make this happen. That map of the CZ connecting to the BV connecting to the Salmonberry and out to Tillamook is phenomenal.

I hope to get out and ride the new CZ-Vernonia connection next year when I’m able to travel to Oregon again. And I will definitely ride the Salmonberry when it’s finally done! Can’t wait.

PTB
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PTB

Really tough for me to square Mike Pihl’s bio here. Timber Unity is not cool. At all. But his trail advocacy? Pretty cool!

As long as this trail is never paved I’m glad to see it get some praise and upkeep. When the B-V trail had unpaved sections, dang, that was such a fun connector for rides to Astoria.

Asher Atkinson
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Asher Atkinson

It’s only tough to square bios if you feel an individual’s views, interests and actions must fit in neat little boxes.

PTB
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PTB

You’ve really blown my mind and opened my eyes. Thanks.

Dale Latham
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Dale Latham

To my knowledge there are NO plans to pave the Trail. With considerable pride, locals like to call it the “country cousin of the Banks-Vernonia Trail.”

Momo
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Momo

I just rode it a few weeks ago and I think it works well as a gravel trail. However, there are a few parts that could use a refresh of packed gravel because there are sharp rocks embedded in the ground in some sections that can easily cause flats. Even a gravel trail needs to be maintained and re-graveled every once in a while!

Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

The world still needs wood.

PTB
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PTB

But we don’t need groups like Timber Unity.

Tim
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Tim

In the middle of an otherwise positive story, WHY even bring up the whole “timber unity” thing which has ZERO relevance to the story?

Pete
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Pete

Tell yourself that, if your skin is other than White, while cycling through that area.

Bicycling Al
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Bicycling Al

This is fantastic!!

Could someone familiar with the west side comment on the feasibility of closing the loop from Scappoose to Banks to make a loop ride back to the BV trailhead in Banks? How risky would biking the 25 mile Google Maps recommended route for bicycles be between Banks and Scappoose? Thanks.

Momo
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Momo

You could do a loop using Rocky Point Road, if you’re okay with extremely steep grades climbing up to Skyline.

X
Guest
X

Maybe try using the new RideWithGPS “heat map” to find a popular route between these places?

Looks like you could take Dutch Canyon up and over to Pumpkin Ridge (all pretty rugged), then down to Dairy Creek (via Murphy) and over to Banks. That’s a lot of rough gravel. Can’t see that on the heat map.

Best paved route is probably to suffer on hwy30 down to Rocky Point Rd, up and over and down Moreland/Dorland, then Shadybrook/Mountaindale to Banks.

Bicycling Al
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Bicycling Al

Both are good ideas. Thanks.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a good link. Rocky Point Rd. has too many blind sweepers without a shoulder according to street view. Those are death traps so I prefer to ride those roads on a motorcycle and not a bicycle.

How much of the CZ Trail is paved from Vernonia? Or, put another way, where are the gravel sections? Could one partially ride the CZ Trail from Vernonia on a road bike?

Thanks

Pat Lowell
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Pat Lowell

I was excited about this loop in theory, but then I realized that the CZ and BV trails are so different that you’d be spending half the ride on the wrong kind of bike.

Pete
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Pete

There’s a bike for that.

Pat Lowell
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Pat Lowell

LOL, I’m sure there is, and it’s probably already on my long list of bikes I want to get someday!