Pin It
Favorite

Tragedy of John Wayne 

Why the John Wayne Pioneer Trail is worth saving

click to enlarge CALEB WALSH ILLUSTRATION
  • Caleb Walsh illustration

John Wayne isn't just a movie star. He's a pioneer. In Washington state, he lends his name to an incredible amenity that makes the Evergreen State envied in the rest of the country. The John Wayne Pioneer Trail is, as far as anyone can tell, the nation's longest rail trail.

click to enlarge leadinghamheadshot.jpg

Now two state representatives — Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy — prompted by concerns of adjacent landowners, want to ditch the trail through Eastern Washington.

Not to be hyperbolic, but that would be a tragedy.

Spokane and North Idaho residents will recognize the former rail line, called the Milwaukee Road, as the Route of the Hiawatha, the popular bike path that straddles the Montana-Idaho border. If you drive from Spokane to Seattle along I-90, you'll begin seeing signs for John Wayne Trail Access and Iron Horse State Park west of Ellensburg.

While the western section from Ellensburg to North Bend is well maintained, with good access points and restrooms, the eastern portion from the Columbia River to the Idaho border is largely unimproved, with numerous missing trestles. It's used mostly by horse riders and hearty mountain bikers. Many areas are unmarked and largely forgotten by the Washington State Parks and Department of Natural Resources, which jointly oversee the John Wayne Trail.

Did you know that you can ride it on your mountain bike or horse all the way from Rattlesnake Lake near Seattle, 253 miles to Tekoa near the Idaho border? Or, if you want, leave the John Wayne Trail, connect to the Columbia Plateau and Fish Lake trails and end up in Spokane.

Pat Sprute of Spokane did the full east-to-west trip on the John Wayne three years ago.

Sprute documented the trip on his blog, highlighting the rugged eastern portion. The pictures alone will make you want to hop on a bike and tour the stunningly diverse terrain Washington has to offer.

"Most states don't have non-motorized passages from one side to another," Sprute told me. "It makes our state special. I would appeal to people to support [the trail] on that basis alone."

Sprute says that while the western section is better maintained and easier to ride, the eastern section is his favorite.

"I like the remoteness and desolation of being out there where there's no cell service," he says, noting that the trail shows parts of the Inland Northwest that motorists will never see from any highway.

Using the word "tragedy" to describe the potential loss of the trail is not hyperbole; it's economic. There's a term, "tragedy of the commons," that political science students will remember. It's the situation that economic theorists say develops when a public resource open to all is abused and overused. The "tragedy" occurs when the common area for everyone is no longer manageable, because people put their own self-interest ahead of the shared resource.

Are there people who abuse the common areas around the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, driving on it, dumping trash and not respecting adjacent private land? Yes, unfortunately. But as one trail advocate noted, it's not bikers or horse riders dumping microwaves out there. Closing the trail and denying the public the opportunity to see its potential fully reached would be the real-world application of economic theory.

Polling data shows voters consistently rank spending tax dollars on trails, parks and outdoor recreation areas as among the best uses of public funds. In an age of extreme political polarization, it's nice to know that at least one issue unites us.

Even the Spokane City Council agrees that the trail is a worthwhile asset. Last week, the council passed a nonbinding resolution to support the state keeping and improving the trail. There's obvious economic benefit in trails, particularly one like the John Wayne which brings riders into Spokane and Eastern Washington.

The resolution passed 7-0. When left- and right-leaning politicians can get behind an idea, that should send a signal to legislators and landowners who oppose the trail.

Not listening to and heeding that signal is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all. ♦

Scott A. Leadingham is director of education for the Society of Professional Journalists and editor of its magazine, Quill.


  • Pin It

Speaking of Comment, Guest Editorial

  • Puppy Love
  • Puppy Love

    Burned out by politics? Winston and his kind can help
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • What Now?
  • What Now?

    How a career change forced me to reevaluate fatherhood
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • Felonious Judgment
  • Felonious Judgment

    A community of hope and restoration can be ours with fair chance hiring
    • Jun 23, 2016
  • More »

Latest in Comment

  • This Isn't Normal
  • This Isn't Normal

    America has gone down this road before, and it's a dead end
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Incendiary Words
  • Incendiary Words

    Trail Mix: Trump's gifts to civics teachers everywhere
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Fake-News Nightmare
  • Fake-News Nightmare

    The social media dream of the 2000s is fading, but we can reset the system by sticking up for the truth
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Comments (18)

Showing 1-18 of 18

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-18 of 18

Add a comment

Today | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri
Planetarium Show: Black Holes

Planetarium Show: Black Holes @ Spokane Falls Community College

Sat., Dec. 3, 5-6 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 4, 3-4 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Scott A. Leadingham

  • The Scourge of Fake News
  • The Scourge of Fake News

    Made-up news stories played a role in the presidential election: Who's to blame?
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Ode to (Desert) Joy
  • Ode to (Desert) Joy

    Why you should slow down — or better yet, stop — in the "drive-by" stretch of Washington
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Unfinished Business

    Isaiah Wall wants to get his life on track. But first, he's gotta buy drugs for the police
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • The Scourge of Fake News

    Made-up news stories played a role in the presidential election: Who's to blame?
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

Briefs


green zone


marijuana


trail mix


election 2016


Readers also liked…

  • To Kill the Black Snake
  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Put Kids First
  • Put Kids First

    Why adults in Olympia must come together to pass the Early Start Act
    • May 27, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation