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Amid opposition and delays, Yamhelas Westsider Trail planning effort chugs along

Posted by on December 11th, 2020 at 11:22 am

The project would be built on an abandoned railroad line along Highway 47.

Imagine a connection between this path, the Salmonberry (to the coast) and the Crown Z (to the Columbia River).

A rail-trail project in Yamhill County is moving forward with a planning process despite years of delays and disagreements about its impacts. The Yamhelas Westsider Trail — named after the Yamhelas tribe of the Kalapuya people who originally inhabited the land just east of the Coast Range and south of Forest Grove — is a 13-mile transportation corridor that will connect McMinnville to Gaston.

Thursday night an open house was held for the Yamhelas Westsider Trail Master Plan. That work, being led by Alta Planning and Design, will include a new project website, a robust public outreach process, and the creation of a project advisory committee.

The future path would be built on a 92-acre parcel of railroad right-of-way was abandoned in the 1980s after a century of use by Union Pacific. Yamhill County has recognized the corridor in its Comprehensive Plan since 2012 and purchased the land (with federal and state dollars) in 2016. In the past four years momentum for the project has gained steam as backers have won key state grants and the endorsement of Metro. But the project has also been met with severe opposition from landowners and farmers who live along the proposed route.

People against the path say it will harm farming practices, lead to humans and dogs trespassing on sensitive crops, result in lawsuits and protests about the use of pesticides, encourage illegal camping, and so on. In June 2020, the Capital Press, a news outlet that focuses on agricultural issues, said the County should cancel the project.

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Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla.

Recent progress is also under threat due to a new anti-project majority on the Yamhill County Commission. The project’s biggest backer, Commissioner Casey Kulla, used to enjoy a 2-1 voting block of support. But with Commissioner Rick Olson leaving the commission next month, Kulla will now be in the minority.

According to the Yamhill County News-Register, “Commissioner Mary Starrett has opposed the trail, as has incoming Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer, who made her opposition a plank in her election campaign and received funding from trail opponents. The two, with a new majority, could scuttle the trail’s development.”

For now the project is still very much alive, but legal challenges and a pending decision from the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has led to delays.

“Folks out here have a hard time finding spaces open to them that are safe,”
— Casey Kulla, commissioner

Project supporters hope compromises are possible (even a different alignment isn’t off the table) and say none of the concerns raised by landowners are insurmountable. They also say the benefits of a safe transportation corridor that will help keep people off of dangerous Highway 47, provide options to driving, and help stimulate the local economy, far outweigh any risks.

Wayne Wiebke, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, wrote to ODOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee last month urging them to help keep the project moving forward. “Currently there is no safe north-south route for pedestrians and bicycles through Yamhill County,” Wiebke wrote. “This puts our students in the Yamhill Carlton School District at risk, as children go to elementary school in Carlton and middle and high school in Yamhill, with no safe route between the cities.”

The Friends added in a email to BikePortland today that they were “humbled” by the dozens of supporters who attended last night’s open house. But there joy was tempered by the reality that, “progress may be stymied in the near future” due to the political shift on the Commission. “To keep momentum and hope alive for this project, it will be critical for supporters of the trail to speak up and show how much the majority of the community wants this project for the safety and health of our families and communities.”

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Commissioner Casey Kulla will need this support. He told me in an interview yesterday that a carfree path is vital for his constituents. The idea of having lots of room to move around safely in rural areas is a “myth”. “Folks out here have a hard time finding spaces open to them that are safe,” Kulla said, standing in a field on his family’s vegetable farm. “Public spaces on rural roads are intended for cars or farm traffic and knowing you are safe from those obstacles is very attractive to many people.”

Kulla is “completely optimistic”. He thinks the project should bring people together and is “saddened” the division around it. If no deal can be struck with those in opposition to the project, Kulla says it could be stalled until new commission elections are held in two years.

Seems like the only sure thing with this project at the moment is the master plan process. If you’d like to learn more and get involved, check out the video below and YWTMasterPlan.com where you’ll find a very good interactive map where you can zoom into specific locations and share comments.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

Man, I hate riding along 47. This would be great!

Fred
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Fred

Couldn’t agree more, MoRG. I recently rode to Hagg Lake and was blown away by the sheer awfulness of Hwy 47. ODOT has done such a nice job of creating a continuous center turn lane – you wouldn’t want the 55-65mph traffic to have to slow down – that they have shrunk the shoulder to 1-2 feet, making your bike ride like a tight-rope walk with 50,000 lbs whizzing five feet from your left ear.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Trying to get from Dilley over to Spring Hill Road is one of my most despised route sections on any ride.

eawriste
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eawriste

This type of project should be the priority of ODOT, not highway expansion.

Granpa
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Granpa

A. Few years ago I took a bike tour through Germany. It was a hybrid tour that took trains and trails. Lots of the routes were on paved trails that went through working farms. Tall corn on both sides or in the shade of wood lots. Hardly any arable land was used and farmers accepted the sharing of space as being a societal obligation. Germans are serious capitalists but individuals see themselves as part of the greater society. Wonderful trip through a beautiful country.

Tim
Guest
Tim

These paths often go right through farmyards, so as an American I wondered when some irate man with a gun was going to run me off, but all I ever got were friendly waves and guten tag. I miss being able to visit a place where people sharing a path are accepted as part of the community.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Germans follow rules. That helps people get along and tamps down concern about trails projects. Bike touring is popular and bikes on trains is also so common that it is crowded. I. Know the comment on rules is a generalization. At 3 in the morning after Octoberfesting in Munich, my son waited with others for the walk signal on a deserted intersection. They are an orderly society.

Vincent Dawans
Guest
Vincent Dawans

Yes as an american of European origin, I have adapated with no problem to the urban landscape as well as very much enjoy the high nature found in our millions of acres of national forests and parks; the in-between — the rural area between the city and “high nature” — remains uncomfortable and foreign to me even after 25 years; I do not know how to function in that environment as it feels very restrictive, with most land mass being inaccesible (and a bit threatening).

Vincent Dawans
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Vincent Dawans

Having lived the first half of my life in Europe and the second half here, I can say that this is probably the one thing I miss the most about Europe. Keep in mind that a lot of the trails are built on right-of-ways that have been there for centuries. During most of human history in Europe, people had to walk to go from A to B, so it is only normal that they created thousands of miles of trails that became right-of-ways. So it is typical to have these right-of-ways accross any large piece of land. Keep in mind that that these large piece of land might be a recent construct anyway — it might be the combination of tens of legal parcels dating back to medieval times where agricultural lots where much smaller then divided between family members. The bottom line is that over time the main right-of-ways became paved road for automobiles of course but since not as many direct routes were needed as when walking, many walking path remain today in there place, some improved (for biking), some not. Biking and walking next to a road with high automobile traffic is not that common and would be actually frawn upon. So Europeans are spoiled in that regard. Even highlights such as the historic columbia river trail can be a bit of a shock to a European visitor because it is so close to the freeway in parts. But the difference is thousands of years of heavy human design vs a few hundred years (not to dismiss trail making by native americans, but I am comparing in terms of population density), so it is unfair to compare of course. At the end, the way I explain it (simplistically with a bit of tongue-in-cheek) to my European family and friends is that in the US you either are next to a road or a parking lot OR your are in complete High Nature/wilderness — by which I mean be prepared and equipped and don’t expect a little village café five miles down the path as you are hiking through the Cascade mountains, as at this point the next human settlement is 150 miles down the path!

Jason
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Jason

The argument apposed to the trail is brought by the vocal minority. Overall the trail would be a positive influence in the tourism industry for Yamhill County. A few farmers would be inconvenienced by the potential of new restrictions for pesticides. I don’t see that as a compelling platform to defeat the trail project though.

Lazy Spinner
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Lazy Spinner

The two Yamhill County commissioners should reconsider their shortsighted positions. When combined with the existing Banks-Vernonia Trail, the Crown-Zellerbach, and the upcoming Salmonberry Trail, their county could turn into a major bike tourism hub. I strongly suggest that they make contact with small towns and businesses along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails back east. There is no illegal camping problem, restaurants and inns flourish along the route, and many small town businesses selling food, drinks, tubes, etc. to riders make nice money during the cycling season. I could see many Washington and Yamhill County wineries taking advantages of wine tours by bike and even building lodging as an added income stream. Yamhill, Carlton, Forest Grove, and McMinnville would see economic benefits.

eawriste
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eawriste

Anyone involved in this please take Lazy’s advice. The GAP/C&O has been transformative for small towns in PA and MD. Here is the benefits for the nearly completed Empire State Trail.

Pascual Perrin
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Pascual Perrin

Yeah, they don’t need to worry about homeless campers. They all migrate to Portland for the wrap around services and lack of requirements for personal responsibility.

Chris I
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Chris I

Is there ANY evidence of negative externalities on the Banks-Vernonia trail? Aside from a few trailhead parking lots that fill up, I’ve never seen anything that could even be perceived as a negative when using this trail.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Ah, you’ve never been involved in a rail trail development before. There are a LOT of inevitable, perceived negative elements, and very few that are supported by evidence.

Fourknees
Guest
Fourknees

Agreed. The vision is there for an amazing regional and national draw. There are so many examples around the country on this. There are great gravel roads in this area too. The road from Carlton to Gun Club road to the east of 47 is gravel and all adjacent farm land. I’ve only had waves from those along the way.

Pascual Perrin
Guest
Pascual Perrin

I LOVE riding on rail trails and always try to spend some money at local businesses before and/or after
my rides. I hope this trail gets built. Would be great to check it out.

maxD
Guest
maxD

looking at the map, I see a dream loop: IF a willemette greenway trail could be completed between the confluence with the Yamhill to Linnton, then Crown Zellerbach to Vernonia, trail to Banks,Yamhelas Westside to Yamhill RIver and the follow the Willamette trail back to Portland. Camp at Stubb Stewart, side trip to Haag lake, overnight in McMinnville, connect to the Salmonberry. I know its a bit pie in the sky, but this such a great, fu nadnexciting project it gets me pumped to plan some rides! I hope they can get those debbie downers on board

BikeSlobPDX
Subscriber
BikeSlobPDX

If they cancel the project are they planning to repay the state and federal money?

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Do you know if anyone has ever assessed the value of the Banks-Vernonia trail to those respective economies? Every time I’ve ridden the trail from end-to-end and most times I go to LL Stub Stewart I eat at either end of the trail, the trails are always busy. I know there is AN impact but I’m curious if anyone has calculated how much. I’m confident that if that trail didn’t exist I would have never been to either Banks or Vernonia and certainly wouldn’t have spent money there.

A wine country bike trail would be great. One of the reasons I rarely go down there is because there is nothing to do outside of drink wine. Being able to spend a day biking and then hit up a winery or restaurant for dinner would definitely get me down there more often.

Cyclekrieg
Subscriber
Cyclekrieg

Yes: https://www.railstotrails.org/resource-library/results/?tag=Economic+impact

I live on one of these style of trails and it allows me to commute to work in the summer (30 miles). They are a lifeblood of recreational dollars to the smaller communities in rural areas.

Anyone apposed to trails like this has never talked to communities that benefit from these types of trails. A lot of the arguments against the trail are BS.

lumpy
Guest
lumpy

That should be EAST of the coast range.

Ron G.
Guest
Ron G.

“Public spaces on rural roads are intended for cars or farm traffic…” It’s not surprising this project is a hard sell in a place where even the guy who supports it doesn’t really like bikes.

dan
Guest
dan

Sad that people don’t see the opportunities for bike tourism revenue / walking tour revenue. Not everyone wants to drive winery to winery…some of us would rather ride winery to winery, then spend the night at one.

CO Cyclist
Guest
CO Cyclist

I stopped using this route years ago. Too many close passes and bad actors along the way. A dedicated path would be a good thing.

Tim Davis
Subscriber
Tim Davis

This has been such a LONG time coming! Way back in February 2013, I had great conversations with Mayor Kathie Oriet and Council President Ginger Williams about supporting, funding and building the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, for which the need has been dire for many years. New bike trails always take FOREVER, which is so depressing. Former Mayor Oriet was SO supportive and appreciative, though!

It’s also incredibly depressing to see all the opposition to what will be an INCREDIBLE new amenity that will be enjoyed by thousands of folks of every age and ability.

It’s amazing how FEW people know about this trail that’s been fought over vigorously by the same loud voices living along the corridor. For example, while in Carlton about a month ago, I happened to run into my all-time favorite trails-supporting Metro Councilor, Shirley Craddick! She’s been introducing Mel Huie’s Metro Quarterly Trails Forum for several years (happy retirement after 42 years, Mel!!). And even though she is VERY up to speed on trails issues throughout Metro, and even though we were standing literally a *few blocks* from where the Yamhelas Westsider Trail will be built, it took her a while to remember this trail after I said how thrilled I was about its imminent construction. Again, this is coming from someone who is SUPER familiar with our trail network. So, my hope is that it will quickly become a highly popular piece of our trail network! Its location is WAY more fortuitous than a lot of people realize now, but once it’s built, the opportunities for safe and super fun explorations of the incredibly scenice Hwy 47 corridor will be endless!

Once the Yamhelas Westsider Trail opens, the FIRST thing I will do is take MAX to the last stop in Hillsboro and then use this trail to access some wineries that are situated *beautifully* along that corridor. I’ll also ride around Henry Hagg Lake before returning to Hillsboro – and possibly staying at McMenamins Grand Lodge. It would make for an EPIC bike-touring day!! 🙂

This trail *cannot* be completed soon enough!! 🙂