Citizen Editorial: Rep Schmick Still Closing State Wide Trail?
What will Representative Joe Schmick now do with Washington’s only state wide trail? Will he close it forever? Will he repair it for all? Or will he simply do nothing?
“Schmick is noncommittal about whether he will try again to close the trail. “We’ll hear from everyone at the meetings,” Capital Press Nov 4th 2015.
During the final budget conferences of the 2015 legislative session, behind closed doors, Representative Schmick (9th Colfax) placed into the capitol budget a proviso that took 135 miles of the John Wayne Trail, 6,000 acres of park land, and gave it away, at no cost, to 200 adjacent property owners. It was a land grab done without any public announcement or input.
When asked later why he made such a definitive move as to close the state wide trail forever in the shadows of secrecy rather than the openness of democracy, he said he did not want to waste his fellow legislators’ time by having a hearing for such a trivial matter. And when asked why he did not bother to inform his own constituents, of which many are trail users, he said that we could go look it up on line if we wanted to. You may find it on line if you read the Capitol Budget very carefully, it is in section 3121(3) on page 118 of the 280 page document.
It is the fundamental basic duty of any legislator to both inform and listen their constituents; all of them not just a particular group of supporters. They are to be our ears and voice in Olympia. Rep. Schmick has failed to fulfil this basic duty of his office, but there may still be time to repair the damage.
Despite his best efforts to decimate the trail, Rep. Schmick met a road block, in the form of a simple typo. The proviso incorrectly named the points of the trail to be closed, thus nullifying the law enacted when the budget passed. For now, the trail remains open.
If you have never visited the John Wayne Trail, please do, you’ll enjoy it. It is the largest rail to trail conversion in the nation, one of only two cross state trails in America, it’s over 280 miles long. Starting just south east of Seattle, you can bike, ride a horse, or hike all the way to the Idaho border on an isolated path shut to motorized vehicles. It begins in thick wood lands rich with lakes and rivers, then through the dramatic and harsh terrain of the scab lands, and ends in some of the most peaceful pastoral settings our state has to offer. Every mile is solemnly tranquil and offers dramatic vistas.
It is used by thousands annually, including horse riders, hikers, cross country bicyclists, the Boy Scouts of America, The John Wayne Pioneer Trail Riders, and many more.
It is also one of the very few places where you can see the scab lands, a terrain so rare geologically it exist only by the John Wayne Trail and on the planet Mars. Young Washington geologists travel to the trail every year for their training. And rich with the cultural heritage of our state. Just this past weekend the Ralston Grange restored an old rail way station that is on the trail.
Most importantly to me, it ends in my small town of Tekoa WA (pop. 843). You pass a large sign as you enter Tekoa “Welcome to the End of the John Wayne Trail”. It’s important to our identity and our economy. Rep. Schmick must have past that sign on his way to be in our town parade this July.
It’s hard for a small town to stand up to a powerful state legislator but that’s what we did.
We learned about this tragedy in September. While attending the Palouse Empire Fair, where my daughter was showing her 4H sheep “Spot”, I stopped by Rep. Schmick’s booth and asked him if he got the trestle cookies my wife Debra baked and mailed him. I wanted to thank him for his support for our efforts to get funding for the Tekoa Trestle. He said he would support that end of the trail, but planned to reintroduce legislation to close the trail from the Columbia River to Malden. This of course was quite shocking news. Until this moment that information was known only to a handful of people.
Two days later, and after our Mayor John Jaeger spoke with Rep. Schmick, our city council passed a resolution asking that the trail be kept open and better funded instead. Since then there has been something of an uproar in the Palouse. Lots of news articles, emergency town meetings, and a supporting resolution from the City of Spokane.
In all fairness, during my conversation with Rep. Schmick, he made some very good points regarding his motivations for closing the trail. Adjacent land owners have had to endure some real problems. For example, the State has neglected fence lines, noxious weed control, and have recently imposed upon farmers a fee for using the trail to transport equipment.
Recently we met with Rep. Schmick and he agreed to hold with the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association three meetings along the trail to solicit public comment. The meetings will all take place in November so that at their conclusion there is time available for Rep. Schmick to introduce legislation for the 2016 session to address the needs of the trail.
Public Comment Meetings for the John Wayne Trail
Rosalia Tuesday November 10th 12pm
Community Center (7th St. and Whitman Ave.)
Lind Monday November 16th 12pm
Union Elevator Conference Room (201 S street)
Ellensburg Monday November 23rd 6pm
Hal Holmes Center (209 N Ruby St.)
At these meeting the TTTA will be advocating for 11 key points as the basis for a bill to solve the problems of the John Wayne trail for landowners and trail users alike:
1. improve spraying for noxious weeds
2. reinstate ranger service
3. repair the cow creek trestle
4. remove permit requirements for recreationalists
5. remove fees for farmers moving equipment on the trail
6. restore the Tekoa trestle
7. start a citizen litter patrol “adopt the trail program”
8. repair the Columbia River Crossing
9. improve rock slide removal and gravel grading
10. proper fences installed and maintained
11. additional trail heads, water stations and bathrooms installed
We hope that at the conclusion of these meetings Rep Schmcik will not introduce legislation to close the trail but will instead seek the sufficient funding necessary to repair it and protect land owners.
To close the trail would be a tragic permeant loss to our state and our small town. To do nothing at all will only exasperate the sufferings of adjacent landowners. The best path forward is to repair the trail.
There are many who will object to the expenditure of any money spent on such projects. I ask they not allow their well-placed conservative values to relegate Eastern WA to second class citizenry. West of the Columbia River the trail is in pristine condition, trail heads, weeds sprayed, maintained fences, finished trestles and ranger patrols. There are no complaints from nearby landowners there. It is only here in Eastern WA that the trail needs to be refurbished. We seek no new taxes but the same type of support for our end of the state wide trail.
The future of our state’s trail is now in the hands of one man. What will our Representive do? I don’t have any idea. But I wish our town was not so dependent upon the good will of one man who has not demonstrated a history of support for the trail.
If you are a Washington citizen in support of our trail please come to our meetings, we need you. If you are a city councilor please help us by passing a similar resolution to Tekoa and Spokane’s. And if you are member of the Washington State legislature please do whatever you can to help us save the trail.
Ted Blaszak, Tekoa WA
November 6, 2015