The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and Eastern Oregon University have signed an agreement with the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority to prepare a study to determine if a rail-with-trail on the historic Joseph Branch rail line between the towns of Elgin in Union County and Joseph in Wallowa County is feasible.
The possible rail-with-trail has been identified as a valuable recreational and economic development asset that requires further study. A developed rail-with-trail would allow the tracks to be used by tourist trains and other trains while simultaneously being a draw for local recreationists and tourists. Jobs would be created in construction and maintenance, and there would be economic benefits for tourism-related business like bike rentals, shuttle services, restaurants, lodging and retail. These benefits need to be tempered against possible changes to the area that will result from increased tourism, including impacts to local landowners, and the cost of building such a trail (along with operation and maintenance), all of which need to be fully understood before the project can proceed. OPRD has developed a three-phase Wallowa Union Trail Concept Assessment Scope of Work for conducting the feasibility study.
Phase I: Existing Conditions Assessment (April 2014 through December 2014)
Phase I involves Parks Department staff members and the university student teams interviewing stakeholders, assessing land uses zoning, reviewing master plans and current uses within and adjacent to the corridor, determining anticipated economic impacts of the rail-with-trail concept, and identifying and evaluating downtown revitalization opportunities. Parks Department staff members will evaluate and prepare a rail corridor physical assessment report.
A draft existing conditions report will be prepared to present findings from stakeholder interviews and the assessment of the rail corridor.
A Trail Concept Review Advisory Committee will be convened to review the Draft Existing Conditions Report and discuss a public meeting presentation. The university and the Parks Department solicit nominations for representatives from the business community, residents (including adjacent landowners), and local government representatives to serve on the Concept Review Advisory Committee.
Public workshops will be conducted in Elgin, Wallowa, and Enterprise to review the Existing Conditions Report, identified opportunities and constraints, economic impact analysis and obtain public input.
Phase II: Trail Concept Development (January 2015 to September 2015)
Public Comments will be collected for consideration by Parks Department, university, and the Trail Concept Review Committee to develop trail design alternatives, potential mitigation measures, cost estimates, and identify possible funding options for trail development and management. A randomly selected panel of residents will be surveyed to test proposed trail development alternatives. The information gathered will be used to prepare a Trail Alternatives Report for presentation at public workshops in Elgin, Wallowa, and Enterprise.
Phase III: Trail Concept Report and Review (September 2015 to January 2016)
The information gathered in the public workshops will be compiled and a Draft Trail Concept Report will be prepared for review by the Trail Concept Review Committee. A final Report will be prepared for presentation at a railroad authority board meeting. Public comments for the railroad authority's consideration to permit development of trail improvements will be taken at the meeting.
JBTC Engagement with the EOU Student Internship Advisory Team
Consortium members and volunteers will serve with university faculty members on the Student Internship Advisory Team. As advisory team members we will provide technical support, advice, counsel, and training to university students over the course of the project in developing information for the feasibility study as outlined in the Concept Assessment Plan. An MBA student to be the lead for the Student Internship Team(s) has been identified. We will be objective in our technical support of and work with the student interns. We will also seek additional grant support for the students’ engagement in the project.
JBTC Public Contact and Education Role
The Parks Department and railroad authority recognize the consortium has a separate and parallel role to other project efforts in developing and making information available to the public about rail-with-trail possibilities, opportunities, and issues. The consortium will provide help by disseminating information about public workshops dates, times, and locations.
Trail Concept Advisory Committee
Kim Metlen, Board President, will represent the consortium on the Trail Concept Review Committee. Stephen Adams will represent the railroad authority and Sara Miller will represent the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District on the Trail Concept Review Committee. Additional members from the business community, residents, and elected officials from Elgin, Wallowa, Lostine, Enterprise, Joseph, Union and Wallowa county are being asked to serve on the Concept Review Committee.