DAYTON — A $637,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation will pave the way for design work, engineering, surveying and more on a proposed multiuse trail connecting Dayton and Waitsburg.

The grant from DOT’s Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Program is nearly double the $350,000 organizers requested in their application, Port of Columbia officials said. The increase in funds came after DOT reviewed the 9.7-mile “rails-with-trails” project and wanted the plan to include pedestrian bridges in the project, Port of Columbia Manager Jennie Dickinson said during a recent Economic Development Steering Committee meeting.

The Touchet Valley Trail project is part of the broader Blue Mountain Region Trails plan. It will create a path adjacent to the active railroad line on Port-owned property for pedestrians, bicyclists and those traveling horseback.

Proponents are in the development phase of the concept. This is the second major grant to move the trail forward.

Last November, the National Park Service awarded a grant in the form of services provided by staff to help develop the trail concept plan, gather community input and identify funding sources for construction.

So far the Port has conducted two public meetings on the proposal. One was a general public meeting; the other was with adjacent landowners.

A community survey has also launched to gather input and feedback on the vision and hopes for the project, an announcement explained.

As of early last week about 100 to 115 people had responded to the survey.

“The concept design is truly finding out what people want,” said Kathryn Witherington, the Port’s economic development coordinator.

The survey seeks understanding on every detail from the preferred trail surface to benches, tables, accessibility, water fountains and more.

The completed project is expected not only to fulfill a longtime vision of the two communities, but also potentially boost tourism and improve economic development and the health of users.

Another step in the development includes coordination between the Port and National Park Service with the Washington Association of Landscape Architects, and a WSU landscape architecture class, to host an intense, weekend-long workshop to hammer out details that lead to design and a sketch of an initial plan.

Slated for late October, that gathering is expected to culminate in a public meeting on the initial concept with the communities, the Port said.

If the goal of a completed concept plan by the end of the year is met, National Park Service will shift its focus to finding funds and grant applications.

Port officials said due to funding cycles, the trail would likely be constructed in 2022.

The DOT’s grant develops the design and trail and river crossings to 90 percent.

Dickinson said one misconception in the community around the project has been the belief that private land will be used for the trail. She said the project is slated for the publicly owned corridor. The Port owns 100 feet of right of way, generally including 50 feet on each side, from the center of the rail line.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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