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Salmonberry Corridor inches closer to reality

Plans to create a recreational trail along the defunct railroad corridor that stretches between Banks and Tillamook appear to be rolling on a non-stop track.Photo Credit: FILE - Disused railroad tracks run through the wilderness of the Oregon Coast Range. Trail enthusiasts are planning to convert the rail corridor into a multipurpose trail linking Banks and Tillamook. The so-called 'Salmonberry Corridor' would link up with the Banks-Vernonia State Trail and could eventually form part of a continuous route between Scappoose and the Oregon Coast.

The proposed 86-mile “Salmonberry Corridor,” which winds through rugged and isolated stretches of the Coast Range, would follow the route of what is now the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad (POTB).

A severe storm in 2007 triggered mudslides and washouts that resulted in heavy damage to the rail line, and rail service between the two points ceased.

Estimates to rebuild the damaged portions of the line were pegged at around $60 million, a cost deemed too high to justify.

With the tracks out of service, the POTB eventually made the decision to allow the tracks to be removed to make way for a trail, and a group called the Salmonberry Coalition has been working to build a workable plan for a trail along the railroad right of way.

Last Wednesday evening (Sept. 24), a public meeting was held at the Banks Fire Hall to unveil a final draft plan for the proposed corridor that calls for a multi-use, non-motorized trail within the railroad right of way.

Rocky Houston, state trails coordinator for the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, said the corridor has amazing potential.

“This is going to be a generational opportunity,” Houston said.

Houston pointed out that the adjacent Banks-Vernonia State Trail drew about 250,000 users in 2013, and planners anticipate that a trail to the coast would be even more popular.

About 35 people attended last week’s meeting in Banks, but not everyone was sold on the wisdom of the proposed trail.

One woman in attendance warned about conflicts between recreationalists and hunters.

“Hunting is big in that area,” she said. “You’re adding a huge problem by bringing more people in.”

“This trail will be used by motorized vehicles whether you like it or not,” said another attendee.

Houston said he did not believe those issues would create significant problems.

“There is always a small slice of the population that acts regardless of what the rules are,” Houston said. “But having more people on the trail also allows for more monitoring.”

Others expressed fears of increased fire risks if people gained easier access to the Salmonberry canyon.

“Fire is at the top of the page of concerns raised,” Houston responded.

“Having more access points will help us to develop a fire plan. Opening this up would help us chase down lightning strikes,” added Justin Butteris of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Don Murray, a local resident who said he had worked for the railroad his entire adult life, wondered who would be paying for the clearing and other improvements that would be needed before a trail could be opened to the public. He also expressed his own view on the proposal.

“I’d much rather see trains running down there than people on bicycles,” Murray said.

In fact, portions of the 86-mile corridor still are expected to be used for rail excursions.

A total of 48 miles of the line — from the Tillamook Airport, where the old blimp hangar is, to a station called Enright — were leased to the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad before the 2007 storm, and the company has been running excursions between Garibaldi and Wheeler, where the railroad remains intact.

OCSR plans to continue and perhaps expand excursion operations over the trackage it has access to. In areas where train service may continue, the trail would be built adjacent to the rail line.

According to Houston, however, no companies have expressed interest in keeping the tracks open from Banks to Enright for freight or excursion train services, so the Port of Tillamook Bay wants to railbank that 36-mile section of the line — a process that preserves the corridor for potential use in the future.

“That locks the land in for a trail with the opportunity for rail to come back if needed someday,” Houston said.

A Salmonberry Coalition meeting to adopt the final draft plan is set for Nov. 14 in Banks, and the project is expected to get a green light.

Among the parties in attendance will be officials from Washington County and Tillamook County, as well as representatives of the Port of Tillamook Bay, Oregon Parks & Recreation Department and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

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