Mary McCracken

My Voice

About the author

Mary McCracken, of Island City, is an advocate for sustainable, flourishing and diverse environment, economy, democracy and culture.

My Voice columns reflect the views of the author only. My Voice columns should be 500-700 words. Submissions should include a portrait-type photograph of the author. Authors also should include their full name, age, occupation and relevant organizational memberships. We edit submissions for brevity, grammar, taste and legal reasons. We reject those published elsewhere.

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I ndeed, David V. Arnold’s “A little truth about the railroad” Sept. 20 My Voice contains little truth.

As Arnold stated, there really were “multiple meetings” about how the railroad right of way from Elgin to Joseph should be developed. Arnold and I attended them for years. Much discussion and dialogue took place. Support for Rails to Trails grew with every meeting. But a few large landowners with property abutting the easement didn’t want “the public” that close. After the many meetings, the actual decision to turn over control to the ardent group of railroad buffs was made between them and Union and Wallowa county commissioners, yes, behind closed doors. The expressed wishes of those involved in the dialogue were disregarded.

This practice of going through the motions of holding public meetings and then ignoring community wishes happens frequently. Think MERA logging, the destruction of the Shelter From the Storm building. The recent change to nonpartisan commissioner elections in Union County improves the outlook for more representative decisions in the future.

Technically, Arnold was right about statistics. My claim that the vast majority of both counties preferred the Rails to Trails option over the excursion train was based on attendants at the meetings and respondents to the survey. Most people did not attend meetings or respond to the survey, so my statement wasn’t actually a “representative sample” of the entire population, only of participants.

The Wallowa Union Railroad from Elgin does traverse gorgeous country, as do the tracks now being used in Wallowa County by the people-powered carts. But the spectacular canyon between those sections goes unused by either and is inaccessible to the public. Arnold accused me of unwillingness to engage in constructive dialogue. However, at meetings I proposed a compromise on sections of Rail with Trail as well as Rail to Trail in the canyon. There is ample room in the right of way outside of the canyon to accommodate both tracks and trail. But the canyon?

It is highly unlikely this stretch could support freight trains economically or structurally. The expense of repairing the tracks would be astronomical. To construct a trail in the canyon without removing the rails would involve dynamite, stream degradation and unnecessary expense. Removing those tracks and using the existing bed makes sense. Trail tourists would spend days or weeks, which would promote a broad spectrum of economic growth and cultural opportunities. Bicycle tourism along that section alone would draw tourism from the entire country and link Union County to Wallowa’s successful tourist base.

Furthermore, unlike the train, a trail would positively impact our daily lives. Family access to free outdoor activities is invaluable. Residents could interface with tourists from around the world. Locals would have a superb free recreation area for biking, hiking, fishing and equestrian use. If the canyon portion were dedicated to trail use, everyone would win in so many ways. Only the rails people are preventing this from happening.