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Ride Ben Burr 

A railroad line turned bike trail is finally nearing completion

click to enlarge Cyclist Martha Jones glides over the freshly paved section of the Ben Burr Trail near South Altamont Street. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Cyclist Martha Jones glides over the freshly paved section of the Ben Burr Trail near South Altamont Street.

They've been talking about it for about 20 years, and now the Ben Burr Trail project is finally complete. Mostly.

The approximately 2½-mile trail project that connects cyclists and pedestrians to downtown and eventually hooks up with the Centennial Trail has been on the city's to-do list since before Dan Buller, the principal engineer for design in the city's engineering department, started working there. It just kept getting pushed further and further down.

Buller talks excitedly about the fact that the trail is near completion — another addition to Spokane's already impressive network of biking and walking trails.

The Ben Burr Trail is part of the national Rails to Trails Conservancy program that turns old railroad lines into bike and pedestrian trails. Other examples of rail lines turned bike trails in the area include the Fish Lake Trail, Columbia Plateau Rail and Route of the Hiawatha.

The Ben Burr project is not yet completely finished, meaning the entire thing isn't paved, but they're working on it. Pressed gravel marks the sections that soon will be. Buller anticipates that the majority — about 95 percent — will be finished by the end of this month. The final section, near Martin Luther King Jr. Way, on the south bank of the Spokane River, will be done in the summer and fall of 2017, Buller says.

Ride the Ben Burr starting on the South Hill at 11th Avenue and you'll roll, walk or otherwise make your way down a gentle grade until you get to Liberty Park, near Second Avenue.

The easy downhill ride carves its way past canyon-like walls of black rock, towering trees and occasionally a family of four who live in the neighborhood nearby. At 12 feet wide (with 2-foot shoulders), there's more than enough room for the family to stop on the side of the trail while the young boy — dressed in Spider-Man pajamas — examines a cool rock he just spotted, as a cyclist rides by.

There was some opposition to paving the Ben Burr Trail from those who live in the East Central neighborhood surrounding the former commuter railroad line. They believed that pouring asphalt would destroy the trail's natural and rugged feel and would attract more people to what had largely been a well-kept secret.

Earlier this year, the city officially decided to move forward with the project when the city council approved a $1.1 million contract to widen, extend and pave the trail. Buller says he's very proud of the fact that they were able to pull it off while removing a minimal amount of trees, complying with federal requirements that the path be a certain width.

Because Spokane received federal grant money for this project, the city had to comply with various federal guidelines. All totaled, Spokane received $1.65 million for the project, says Brandon Blankenagel, a senior engineer with the city who helped secure the funding for this project. The city chipped in $76,000, Blankenagel says.

At the bottom of the gentle grade, once you reach Liberty Park, the trail splits. One leg dumps out to Third Avenue and Arthur Street, and boom, you're downtown. The other leg winds under I-90 past Second Avenue, under the Sprague Avenue and BNSF Railway tracks, and eventually ends up at the back side of the Union Gospel Mission before looping around the south bank of the river (this is the part that's not finished yet) and hooking up with the Centennial Trail. Take the Centennial west as it winds down toward Lake Spokane at Nine Mile Falls, or east to the Idaho border where it hooks up with the North Idaho Centennial Trail. The choice is yours. ♦

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