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Touchet Valley Trail concept takes another step forward

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Dayton residents and volunteers browse the plans, ready to place blue dotes for approval at the Touchet Valley Trail charrette in October 2019.

DAYTON — A conceptual plan has been passed to a designer as the next juncture in the Touchet Valley Trail concept that could connect a pedestrian and bike path between Dayton and Waitsburg.

The concept comes after community workshops, a semester of design work by Washington State University students and several virtual review sessions. The conceptual plan was reviewed by commissioners from the Port of Columbia, and they agreed to forward the document of ideas to a consultant for use on a preliminary design for the project, according to a news release from the Port.

“We received some really constructive comments during the public process last year that we worked to address in the conceptual plan,” Touchet Valley Trail Steering Committee member Glen Mendel said in the release. “The conceptual plan is intended to help shape the design as it progresses and provide a visual representation of the ideas generated thus far.”

The aspirations for the trail are just that, Port of Columbia Executive Director Jennie Dickinson discerned.

“This is a concept plan — a set of ideas,” Dickinson said. “There is no funding or construction involved with this plan. ... This is not a final anything.”

Dickinson noted it’s only a list of ideas that may or may not be used by the consultant as the feasibility and engineering of the trail is planned.

The consultant’s work, contracted by the Port, is being paid for by a Washington State Department of Transportation grant.

Dickinson reiterated there is no other funding attached to the project right now because it is still in the planning process, although a firm plan can help secure grants in the future.

The plan incorporates ideas and concerns raised during public meetings and workshops, according to the release.

The initial plans can be viewed online at ubne.ws/trailplan.

A grant from the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program helped the Port of Columbia and partners complete the conceptual plan, the release stated.

“One of the goals of Washington State Parks is to provide a better connection between our parks and the communities they serve,” said Clara Dickinson-McQuary, a Washington State Parks employee and member of the steering committee. “We estimate that 30-40% of the families camping at Lewis & Clark Trail State Park bring their bicycles and don’t have anywhere safe to ride. This trail would literally provide that connection and offer a wonderful recreation experience.”

The consulting firm is currently surveying the rail corridor and sifting through title records and other documents to verify the location of the Port-owned right of way, the release noted.

“Bicycle and pedestrian connectivity and safety are a concern in the (U.S.) Highway 12 corridor,” said state transportation planner and committee member Paul Gonseth. “Our agency is helping fund this portion of the design to provide multimodal alternatives along this corridor.”

One area of concern, according to the release, is the industrial area near Huntsville, which also happens to be one of the narrower portions of available space between the railroad and the highway. A potential solution has been proposed to shift the actual railroad to the north, creating enough space between the highway and the railroad to locate the trail and keep trail users separated from the industrial area.

“Moving a railroad isn’t something most people would think of when planning a project like this,” Columbia Rail owner Paul Didelius said. The company leases the railroad from the Port and also operates the Walla Walla Columbia Rail Line. “By shifting about 1,300 feet of rail, we can create better passage for the railroad, more security for the adjacent industrial users, and maintain an enjoyable recreation experience for trail-users.”

The next milestone in the trail planning project will be the 30% design stage, which is described as a preliminary alignment and grading plan to be prepared after surveying, aerial photos, base map preparation, and supplemental survey and right of way work is undertaken. The Port would plan a public hearing at that point, expected to be in the latter part of this year.

Members of the steering committee represent the cities of Dayton and Waitsburg, Columbia County, the state transportation department, Washington State Parks, local businesses, land owners, railroad operations, the Port of Columbia and the National Park Service.

The entire plan can be downloaded as a PDF at ubne.ws/conceptplan.

Jedidiah Maynes can be reached at jedidiahmaynes@wwub.com or 509-526-8318.

Jedidiah Maynes is the managing editor of Walla Walla Lifestyles magazine. He also writes about business news in the Valley and covers a variety of others topics on occasion. He enjoys making music and puns.