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.
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.
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.
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…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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