Three Days in the Life of the Valley Segment Planning Team

Salmonberry Trail project followers will know that our planning energy this summer and fall is focused on the “Valley Segment,” which stretches from the western Washington County town of Banks to just past the Reehers Camp area in the Tillamook State Forest. The goal of the segment planning work is to begin developing alignment and pre-engineering details that can feed the final design and construction process. This month we met with adjacent property owners in the area; this winter we'll be convening a local advisory committee to shape the recommendations, which should done by May.

Earlier this year, the planning/engineering firm Parametrix was hired to undertake the Valley Segment plan. We wanted to provide a snapshot of what they saw and learned as they surveyed the railroad in this area, so we asked lead planner Jim Rapp to keep a journal of the three days it took them to traverse this 22 mile stretch.

Keep in mind that public access is prohibited in this area (for good reason, as you’ll see). These planning and engineering professionals had approval for access.

Three Days in the Life of the Valley Segment Planning Team

By Jim Rapp, Senior Planner, Parametrix

In early July, a team of planners, engineers, GIS analysts, plus Dennis Wiley, Salmonberry Trail Project Manger for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, set out to walk the future Salmonberry Trail’s 22-mile “Valley Segment”. This walk kicked off master planning for this segment, which stretches from just west of Reehers Camp in the Tillamook State Forest to the City of Banks. The plan will define what the future bicycle/pedestrian pathway will look like and trailhead locations and designs, determine how the many of the spectacular wooden train trestles can be re-used, examine the possibilities for a parallel equestrian trail, listen and take into consideration the ideas of adjacent landowners and communities, and calculate what it will all cost.

This is the story of those three days in July. Our team’s mission was to observe and record all manner of conditions along the rail corridor that might influence how the future trail is built. Our trip didn’t exactly go as planned. Read on!

Early on the morning of July 6, the team assembled on the east side of the Coast Range where the rail line enters Washington County and first crosses an unnamed gravel road near the county line. It proved an inauspicious start. With no rail traffic since 2007, the intervening years of rampant plant growth and regular road grading made just finding the rail line difficult. Even with all the mobile GIS and camera technology we were hauling around with us! Here is the team bright-eyed in the morning, and still smiling about eight hours later!

Beginning of the First Day

Beginning of the First Day

Towards End of the First Day

Towards End of the First Day

And here’s our GIS analyst Chad with a Go Pro strapped to his chest. Using an iPad and this gadget he got the entire trip on digital, including some video sequences.

Man with Go Pro.JPG

So already an hour behind schedule, our field team finally headed downhill on the existing Gales Creek Trail to the rail corridor. A few minutes later, our team’s shuttle drivers took the 2.5 mile, 10 minute drive east to our first rendezvous point in the community of Timber. The field team emerged from the undergrowth almost four hours later, having only advanced from rail mile 796 to 793 - tired, hot, and scratched up - but with heads still held high.  They had worked their way through a green wall of vegetation clogging the entire rail corridor. For the rest of the day and the two that followed, the wall of green only varied by the plant species in front of us. While the these species changed as the rail line dropped to lower elevations, the sheer density of growth never did, except where we crossed a trestle or a road, or passed close to farmsteads and rural homes.

Blackberry brambles were the worst. On the third day, several areas of the rail corridor were virtually impassable, short of risking a large loss of blood! 

This became the central story of our three days. Even reaching a snail’s pace of walking a mile per hour felt like moving at light speed and was a cause for celebration. And remember, we weren’t loaded down with backpacks, and we were walking on a dead flat ground for the most part (except for the numerous places where we had to scramble up and over downed trees and landslides).

Day 2 saw us reach one of the really great features of the future trail – the 1,400 foot long Walcott Tunnel. This tunnel is dangerous in its current condition (see the photograph below), but someday this will be the first of several reopened tunnels that westbound hikers and bikers will use to reach the Salmonberry River Canyon and the Tillamook Coast.

017 (1).JPG

It's worth reminding everyone that entry to this area is illegal and presents significant dangers and hazards in its current condition.

We also walked across two large and new landslides/rock falls near Highway 47 on the west side of Stub Stewart State Park. The slides covered the rail line for over 200 feet. Our team’s geotechnical and structural engineers were really excited to see this – they started right in mentally designing the fix as we hiked!

Despite these challenges, the team did get to Banks by the end of the third day, and along the way made several discoveries that will be important in building the future trail. Things like, the gravel rail bed is mostly in good shape, as are the 16 bridges and trestles. This will keep construction costs down. Future trail users will get a real visual treat when crossing the high wooden trestles, except for the vertigo! 

Without the need for further excavation or retaining walls, there was usually enough flat area within the rail corridor to build a ten-foot-wide paved trail for hikers, bikers, AND a parallel soft-surface equestrian pathway. Truly multiuse! And, as railroads are sited to avoid steep grades, the new trail will be at maximum only 2% to 3% slope and thus accessible to all skill levels, ages, and physical condition.

People all along the future trail route turned out to be pretty nice too. We visited with a newer resident of Timber who was in the midst of restoring the old post office and adding a bike repair shop, four Portland teenagers who had driven out thinking the trail was already open (they had a copy of Willamette Week article from last year about the Trail, we advised them as we did with everyone else we met during these 3 days, that there was no trail yet, and that waking the rail right-of-way was illegal, unsafe, and based on our experience actually not all that much fun at present), a local resident who when she saw the team emerge bedraggled from the bushes ran over thinking it was an emergency and asked if she could help.

We did met a number of farmers. Plus lots of dogs. The shuttle team learned early on that a sudden explosion of barking in the distance was a sure sign that the field team was finally nearing a rendezvous point. More reliable than our walkie-talkies!

Here we are closer towards the end of the trip. Don’t worry that there are fewer folks than in the Day 1 group portrait. We didn’t lose anyone, a few of us had just peeled off to check out other things. 

We hope that the Valley Segment trail plan (and the Coast Segment that was done last year) helps move the vision for this unique multi-user, multi-regional pathway forward to the day when everyone can get out on the trail, and enjoy Oregon’s great outdoors.

In the meantime, at the thought of future field trips scheduled for the Valley Segment, we made a note to self: bring a big gas-powered weed whacker!