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By: Robert Janis

US Forest Service

U.S. Forest Service Leads Diverse Groups in Converting Railroad Route into Multi-Use Trails

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Dominion Bridge
Dominion Bridge

As said, the trestle included iron I-beams and there were segments of concrete to accommodate the trestle's curve.  Concrete boxes held the rock which was balanced on top of the structure and there were concrete pieces like boxes that helped to balance it. It also included gravel, cross ties, and rail. The workers had to dig out all of the gravel and pull off concrete segments. It was not an easy task. A large excavator that could swivel was used. The excavator would swivel around into open space and take on the debris and then drop it into a specially designed dump truck one piece of debris at a time. The dump truck could spin around like the excavator so there was never a need to back it up.

The workers had to clean the top of the steel in the trestle and replace the decking with glued wooden Glu-Lam decking that was prefabricated into sections. The decking will be sealed and covered with a light coat of gravel. Kennedy said that the finished trestle will look like the original structure with gravel in the middle, wood walkways along the edges and a cable railing system on the sides.

Although the project was funded well, the trestle was not reconstructed to highway standards. “That is very expensive, and we didn’t have the funding or design to do it. The tunnel can be upgraded now so it will be multi-use. However, the railing of the trestle can’t be brought up to standard now. There is a parallel bed used by the Northern Pacific Railroad which has been used by motorized vehicles as a bypass to get around the trestle. It is referred to as the ‘Old Route’ and will continue to be used until we can get funds to upgrade the railing for motorized traffic.”

In order to accommodate all who want to use it, a variety of alternatives have been written into the Environmental Impact Statement that is required by the National Environmental Policy Act. “We had to do quite a few things in planning to put things up to standard,” said Kennedy. “The whole project had to go through an analysis process and in that process there are quite a variety of alternatives. Like with any recreational proposal you have people who want their favored recreation permitted. So, we have to accommodate for all-terrain vehicles, bicycles, hiking and more. We had public meetings to discuss all of this, and we are now analyzing everything and will release a plan to the public this summer that explains all the alternatives.”

The alternatives are mostly based on timing. Most of the time the trail has been used by snowmobiles, and that will continue. The middle section of the trail system that is privately owned and needed to access to private homes will remain a road. During the spring and fall all of the trail system will be open to motorized vehicles. One piece--lower route that includes the “Old Route”--will be open to motorized vehicles all the time. The upper route, which includes the trestle, will be open only to non-motorized use.  The Route of the Hiawatha at the Taft Tunnel is covered with snow except for four months in the summer when it will be open to bicycles. “There are about 30,000 people who ride their bikes in this section, and it is bicycle only during the summer,” said Kennedy. At other times this section will be open to ATVs.

The plan also allows for kid-friendly sections. “We don’t want younger ATV riders in mixed traffic with full-size vehicles. So, in several alternatives we are trying to have two sections where only families with kids can ride their ATVs during the summer. There will also be a section only for families with kids riding bikes,” said Kennedy.

It is pretty obvious that the plans are very sophisticated. So, the signage of the trail system must also be sophisticated. “We are working with the local ATV groups on this issue,” explained Kennedy. “There won’t be just signs. There will be paid ATV Rangers who will provide supervision especially in the kid- friendly areas. The county will pay for the Rangers. We also hope that ATV club members will volunteer to do some monitoring.” Kennedy said that the ATV Rangers will have the authority to issue tickets and ban people from the trail. Volunteers will note registration plate numbers and report them to authorities.

The project will be completed in pieces. Kennedy said that the basic work on the tunnel and trestle should be complete by the end of this summer. The middle portion of the trail system is “basically open now to all users,” added Kennedy. Two sections that will alternate use back and forth based on time and the kid friendly sections should be done in 2012. The bypass that will take riders around private lands is expected to be complete by 2013. “We hope that every year we get another piece coming on line,” said Kennedy.

Once complete, the total length of the trail system will be 30 miles.

“It has been a slow, tedious process, but we are excited to see things happening,” concluded Kennedy.

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