BY JAY ALLERT, ADJACENT LANDOWNER TO THE JOHN WAYNE TRAIL NEAR ROSALIA, WASHINGTON
When the Milwaukee Railroad went bankrupt, the state took ownership of the abandoned right-of-way in 1981, and also after the Washington State Supreme Court later reversed lower court rulings that had granted ownership rights to adjacent landowners.
During the past 34 years there have been virtually no improvements or maintenance to the corridor. Just like any other neglected or abandoned property, this has resulted in a long history of trespass, vandalism, thievery and scavenging. The problem for adjacent landowners is these activities aren’t limited to the State’s land. The unsecured and undeveloped right-of-way becomes a corridor for trespass onto the private property of adjacent landowners. The state has no answer for solving these problems that plague the corridor east of the Columbia River that is undeveloped and basically not used. It is not a State Park, but rather a neglected, abandoned railroad right-of-way. Urban homeowners should imagine having a public sidewalk through their backyard that would allow anyone to venture onto their patio or rummage through their property.
This 200+ mile stretch of corridor is mostly desolate, remote cattle pasture where ranchers are forced to maintain what is supposed to be the State’s fences and spray the State’s noxious weeds that threaten to infiltrate their own property. It would take many millions of dollars to develop and maintain this former right-of-way, and the State Parks Department doesn’t and won’t have that kind of money. They are extremely challenged to manage what they have now. The discussion of whether this would be a wise or practical expenditure of our precious taxpayer dollars is a whole additional debate.
A compromise solution attempted by Representative Joe Schmick to this 34 year-old problem allows landowners to assume ownership of their piece of the corridor and properly manage the land, as they do now with the thousands of acres that surround this right-of-way. However, they must grant the State easements that allow the placement of utilities in the corridor, and allow the State to take back ownership if the legislature authorizes funding to properly develop a trail on the right-of-way. Representative Schmick is now organizing additional meetings so that all voices can be heard and a solution found.
The adjacent landowners of the former Milwaukee Railroad right-of-way have been burdened with the realities of neglectful State ownership for more than 30 years. Representative Schmick’s efforts are a responsible attempt to find a very long overdue solution.