Trails with rails merits close look

By Observer editorial May 13, 2013 12:19 pm

You hear a lot about rails to trails.

Not so often do you hear about trails with rails. But that is the dream — a trail along the Joseph Branch rail line between Elgin and Joseph. It is getting closer to reality. 

Railroad representatives met Wednesday with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission in Baker City about a plan to build a trail along the 63-mile route, an area of natural beauty following the Grande Ronde and Wallowa rivers.

A local group, Wallowa Union Heritage Trail Consortium, wants to build a trail along the rails and has been discussing the possibilities with the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority.

Trails with rails would preserve the infrastructure in case major shipping opportunities for lumber, grain or other products arise in the future.

The idea to build a trail along the rail line is not new. However, since the authority has paid off its debt to the state, it is better positioned now to consider the possibility.

The big challenge, of course, will be funding the endeavor. The authority will meet again with state parks and its director, Tim Wood, in June and July to work on a plan.

Trails with rails would allow commerce to proceed and tourist and other trains to use the tracks while simultaneously being a tourist draw to the area. Jobs would be created in construction and maintenance, and there would economic benefits for tourism-related businesses like bike rentals, restaurants and lodging. Trails with rails deserves a close look.