Trail Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Status of the Trail & how can I get involved?
As of 2018, the trail is in the land use permitting phase for the first 6 miles, from Joseph to Enterprise. The following steps have been achieved and are discussed in more detail on this website site:
- Concept Plan by Eastern Oregon University and Oregon State Parks, 2013-2015. Included multiple public input sessions in both Wallowa and Union Counties. A public survey showing support for the trail was also conducted as part of the Plan.
- Concept Plan approved by the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority ((WURA), owner of the corridor), 2016
- Adjacent Landowner interviews and public meetings held in 2016
- Trail Management Plan developed based on adjacent landowner input and trail best practices, 2016-2017
- WURA approves the 6 mile Pilot Project from Joseph to Enterprise, OR in 2016
- Pre-Engineering Study, Cultural Resources Survey, and Wetlands Delineation Study completed by Anderson Perry in 2017
- 2018: the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium and WURA are currently in the land use permitting phase
To learn more and to become involved in the effort to build the trail, send the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium your email below. Updates will be sent periodically about the trail development effort. Thanks!
Will the tracks be removed for this project? And is the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority in support of this project?
No tracks will be removed. The trail will be placed alongside the tracks. Railway operations will proceed as normal, including the Joseph Branch Railriders. And the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) is in favor of the project. They see the trail as a bonus to the maintenance of the railroad, primarily to help with weed maintenance, access to the tracks for repairs, and bridge improvements.
will this trail be funded by local tax dollars?
No, local tax payer dollars will not be used in the construction and maintenance of this trail. Funds for trail construction are available from a variety of state and federal sources, as well as private foundations recognizing the importance of trails like this to the health of communities. Maintenance will be carried out by the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium (Board and Members), a Wallowa & Union County based non-profit, and community volunteers.
Who is spearheading this project? Is it a group from within our community or an outside entity?
This trail is a grassroots movement within Wallowa & Union Counties, the 2 counties that own the railroad corridor. The Joseph Branch Trail Consortium (JBTC), a 501c3 non-profit based in Wallowa & Union Counties, is working closely with the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) to develop, build, and maintain this trail for our COMMUNITY. Local residents on the JBTC Board include: professionals in the medical field, outfitters, Joseph City Mayor, a retired professor, lawyers, ranchers, and an adjacent landowner along the railroad. This trail will be developed by our community for our community. Without a Parks & Recreation District/Department in Wallowa County, recreation projects like this come from the private sector. Two members of the JBTC spear-headed the Joseph City Park Playground Renovation, a $265,000 project involving over 500 community volunteers in building the new playground. Visit our Polling Data to learn about support for the project in Wallowa and Union Counties.
Who is involved in the planning of this project?
The Joseph Branch Trail Consortium (JBTC) in partnership with the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) are leading the planning and development of the trail. The Concept Study for the trail was produced by Eastern Oregon University (EOU) and Oregon State Parks (OSP), with aid from WURA and JBTC. For the Concept Study, EOU and OSP conducted a public survey and held initial public collaborative planning meetings to better understand the desires and concerns of the community. In 2015 and 2016, the JBTC hosted public meetings for the purposes of informing the public and taking public input. Anderson Perry, an engineering firm in La Grande, OR, has designed the Pre-Engineering Study with the JBTC. Anderson Perry has also prepared the Cultural Resources Inventory and Wetlands Delineation Study.
Why Place a Trail next to the Railroad Tracks?
When you ask a member of the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium this question, the answer you will get back is "Why not?" The railroad corridor follows the Wallowa River as it meanders through our valley, connecting the towns of Joseph, Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa. The land is publicly owned and managed by Wallowa & Union Counties. The 2 counties jointly paid over $7 million for the 63 mile corridor. Currently, the tracks in the Wallowa Valley are not able to support a train as some bridges need repair. Funds for these repairs are not available, but the trail development plan provides funds for bridge improvement for pedestrians and the train. Wallowa County is in need of providing safe alternatives for cyclists to commute between Enterprise and Joseph, and beyond to Elgin one day. Oregon Department of Transportation is very interested in this project as they seek to get more cyclists off of Highway 82. In this era of distracted drivers with cell phones and increased RV/general visitor traffic to the county each summer (over 800,000 visitors in 2017 alone (Source: Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce)), it is our community's responsibility to seek out existing infrastructure to provide safe alternative pathways for walking, biking, and horseback riding between our towns.
What will be different about this trail since we already have so many in the mountains?
This trail will be close to and central to our communities, linking Joseph & Enterprise initially. The trail will be wider and lower angle than our mountain trails, making it more accessible to families, elderly, cyclists, runners (say on lunch break from work), parents with strollers, and wheelchair users. It will also provide a nature experience (no cars) close to our towns. Research shows that nature trails closer to "urban" centers are used more frequently by locals than trails where longer travel to trailheads is required. The JBTC is also considering "Fitness Trail" features, where stops along the trail will provide various workout experiences for walkers and joggers.
What benefits will a trail like this bring to our community?
There are over 20,000 miles of trails similar to this in the United States, traveling through rural and urban communities. Benefits to community members include:
- A nature experience close to our urban centers, free of cars, and easy for all in our community to access,
- Increased opportunity for physical fitness in a safe environment (e.g., bicycling free of cars),
- Safe commuting routes between towns (via bicycle, horseback, hiking, and cross-country skiing),
- Increased opportunity for one-on-one interactions, thus fostering greater community engagement,
- Increased opportunities for community events (e.g., community fundraisers, including walkathons, runs, & bike rides),
- An opportunity to educate visitors through interpretive signs about our community's natural and cultural history, including land stewardship (from Nez Perce to Ranching Heritage), and
- Walking/jogging trails are one of the top 3 considerations for all age brackets, especially families, looking to relocate (The National Association of Homebuilders (2016)).
- There will be more benefits we're sure that will be realized once the trail is constructed.
How can this trail contribute to our community's future?
This trail, as stated above, is a great fit to serve the demographic of our current community. With a median age of 55, the low angle and wide (8'-10') design of the trail will make walking and biking easy for a wide spectrum of ages. As an amenity that will make our community more walkable/bike-able, this trail will be an important piece to help attract individuals and families seeking to move here.
According to The Employment Landscape of Rural Oregon (Oregon Department of Labor Report, 2017): "How do rural economies overcome a declining labor force? In today’s economy many workers are drawn to lifestyle communities. These are areas known for quality of life, recreation, and health. Preliminary research by Damon Runberg with the Oregon Employment Department – in an article titled “Is Today’s Labor Force Drawn to Lifestyle Communities?” – shows more vibrant labor force and job growth in these lifestyle metro areas around the United States. As Runberg says, “Lifestyle communities tend to be tourism destinations and they have a larger share of their workforce concentrated in tourism-related industries. However, these lifestyle communities are also experiencing significantly faster job growth than the average metro area.” He points out that both total non-farm employment and the labor force are growing faster in these lifestyle communities than in the average metro area.
Is the railroad corridor public or private land? How wide is it and is it fenced?
The corridor is public land, managed by the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority, an ORS 190 entity. The corridor is 100 feet wide and is fenced on both sides.
Who will be the trail users?
Non-motorized trail traffic: hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. It is anticipated that the majority of users will be from Wallowa County. Adjacent landowner surveys revealed many locals already use a rudimentary trail in the Joesph to Enterprise Corridor (and down valley, too). This project will help make the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) compliant with the Surface Transportation Board for pedestrian access in the corridor. And the project will open up the trail to participants representing a spectrum of ages and physical abilities. Research shows that trails closer to "urban" centers are used more frequently by locals than trails where longer travel to trailheads is required.
And recreational trail users on the many miles of trails like these all over the United States have shown time and again to be good citizens, interested in nature and physical health.
Will there be an increase in trespass, littering, vandalism, and other illegal activities?
Actually, the vast majority of trails have experienced a decrease in unwanted activities such as those listed above (see Rails-Trail and Safe Communities). The reason is that people tend to perform illegal activities in places where there are no reputable citizens frequenting the area. In trail after trail, people have seen the rail corridor transformed from a place that is unkempt and containing litter to one that becomes an amenity for the area that showcases its natural beauty and heritage. Fencing and/or visual screening will be used where trespassing onto private property is of a particular concern. The trail will be managed by the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium and be subject to the rules and regulations approved by the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority. For an extensive study of rail-trails in the United States, visit Rails-Trail and Safe Communities.
Are there concerns from adjacent landowners about the trail and how will they be addressed?
The JBTC has gathered adjacent landowner concerns through multiple public meetings and private interviews. These concerns have been heard and mitigation strategies discussed in the Draft Management Plan. Adjacent landowners have been asked for feedback on the management plan and responses were integrated into the plan, now in 3rd draft form.
This trail will be similar to users walking on a road or sidewalk. There will be a 30 foot easement from the trail to the fence next to adjacent lands. In fact, this trail will parallel county roads in many places, but provides a safe distance from cars on these roads. Changes like increased use in a relatively quiet railroad corridor naturally raise concerns from those next door. Concerns like trespass, littering, weeds, and dogs are traditionally raised all over the United States when community trails are proposed. These valid concerns time and again are proven to not come true to the extent initially thought by adjacent landowners. On the contrary, many adjacent landowners have become strong advocates for the trails once they are constructed (Source: Corning S., Mowatt R., and Chancellor C. (2012). Multiuse Trails: Benefits and Concerns of Residents and Property Owners. Journal of Urban Planning and Development. No. 138: 277-285).
This trail will not cross private land. Also, this trail will not inhibit private property rights as it does not enter onto private land. The trail will be on public property with a border fence. In addition, adjacent landowners have a variety of Oregon laws in place to protect them, from the Right to Farm Act and the Recreational Use Statute.
What are some of the Trail Design Ideas that will help adjacent landowners with some of their concerns?
The primary issues are trespassing, littering, loss of privacy, weeds, and dogs. Here are design ideas being considered for the trail for each issue:
- Fencing: The 100 foot wide railroad corridor is already fenced on both sides. Where sensitive livestock issues exist, a woven wire fence will be placed to keep dogs separate from livestock.
- Dogs: Dogs will be leashed (leash rule on trail). Trail users will be notified of this rule by signs at each access point. Woven wire fencing will be placed by the JBTC in areas where sensitive livestock issues exist. Trail users will also be notified that landowners have the right to shoot at dogs found trespassing and bothering livestock. Dog owners will also be asked to pick up dog feces. Doggie bag dispensers will be placed at each access point, as well as trash cans.
- Littering: Recreational trail users have been shown to generally be good citizens, packing out their litter. Trash cans will be placed at access points and along the trail, too. For those leaving litter behind, the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium (JBTC) will have a routine cleanup route on the trail. Additionally, local groups will be encourages to adopt trail segments and help with annual cleanup efforts.
- Trespassing: The trail design between Joseph and Enterprise will have 2 major trailheads for access, as well as access points where county roads cross the trail. Since there will be many access points for recreationalists, the trail design will reduce if not eliminate the need for trail users to cross private land to access the trail. The trail will be fenced on both sides, discouraging trail users from entering private land. Studies of other rural trail systems have shown that trail users are generally very respectful of private land, again like sidewalks and walking on roads. https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/docs/rt_safecomm.pdf
- Loss of Privacy: Some adjacent landowners were not bargaining for a trail near their property when they purchased it. The JBTC understands this change and will place vegetation barriers (fast growing bushes) and privacy fences where needed. While this change is something to get used to for some, studies have shown that many adjacent landowners tend to see the trail as a benefit (health-wise, socially, and property value) once it is constructed (Source: Corning S., Mowatt R., and Chancellor C. (2012). Multiuse Trails: Benefits and Concerns of Residents and Property Owners. Journal of Urban Planning and Development. No. 138: 277-285). And trail recreation users have been shown to generally be respectful citizens and respect privacy of adjacent landowners. Additionally, benches and "social gathering areas" like trailheads will be located away from property owners concerned about privacy.
- Weeds: Weeds are already an issue in the corridor. The Wallowa Union Railroad Authority and the Joseph Branch RailRiders currently partner in managing the weeds. Once the trail is in place, the weeds in the corridor will be managed by WURA, the Railriders, and the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium, along with the Adopt-A-Trail citizen groups. Education signs will be created to provide weed control education along the trail as well.
Where will the Trailheads be located between Joseph and Enterprise?
In Enterprise, the trailhead will be located at Marr Pond, in partnership with Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW). ODFW has plans to expand the trailhead with ADA accessible bathrooms, a large turn-around space, and more parking. The Joseph trailhead options are being explored near the grain tower.
Why does there need to be a trail built when Locals already hike along and on the tracks?
The Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) has been "turning a blind eye" to locals trespassing in the railroad corridor. WURA could end this "blind eye" at any time. This trail will help WURA be compliant with the Surface Transportation Board. The rail bed, while flat in some areas, is elevated and slanted on both sides for approximately 1/4-1/3 of the 6 miles between Joseph and Enterprise (the pilot project segment). Construction of a trail is necessary for walking/riding beside the tracks. Additionally, the trail can be constructed lower than the rail bed on one side of the tracks to help privacy concerns of adjacent landowners. This trail will be ADA and stroller accessible, so even in the flat areas along the tracks, a trail is necessary to improve the access for families and elderly.
Hiking/riding on the tracks is not an option. The tracks are used currently 6 months out of the year by the Joseph Branch Railriders, and one day the Eagle Cap Excursion Train will be running on the tracks again. Additionally, the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority who owns the corridor does not want people walking/riding on the tracks.
who will manage and maintain the trail?
The Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA), an ORS 190 entity, owns the railroad corridor. WURA manages the overall corridor and the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium (JBTC) will manage and maintain the trail for WURA, similar to the Friends of the Joseph Branch for the Eagle Cap Excursion Train. Read about the community cleanup in the corridor organized by the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium in June of 2017: Volunteer Clean Up.
How will the trail be maintained?
Like many other rail with/to trails across the United States that are not owned by a state park or maintained by a county entity, this trail will be maintained by a local 501c3 non-profit volunteer group (JBTC). The JBTC is a membership based organization and will seek funds through membership and grants, as well as set up an endowment. Local partnerships have been developed as well to help maintain trailheads. The Enterprise trailhead will be a partnership with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) at the Marr Pond Wildlife Area. ODFW already has the funds to upgrade that trailhead location. The Joseph trailhead location will be a partnership with the Joseph Branch Railriders.
Weeds are a major concern already in the corridor and the Wallowa County Weed Control Department has been contracted with by WURA to help control the weeds. It is anticipated this partnership will continue. Additionally, there will be Adopt-A-Trail segments where local businesses, organizations, and schools can help control weeds and litter along the trail. Trash cans will be placed incrementally along the trail for litter control.
For more information about the management and maintenance of the trail, please visit the Management, Maintenance, and Signage Plan (3rd Draft)
How long has the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium been working on this project?
A trail along the tracks has been a dream of many for years. In 2013, the group that would become the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium (JBTC) started working with the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority (WURA) and Oregon State Parks to explore the development of the trail. In 2015, Eastern Oregon University and Oregon State Parks, along with WURA and JBTC, performed a Concept Study to determine if the trail was a viable option for Wallowa and Union Counties. Public surveys were taken, as well as cultural, environmental, and engineering studies. The Concept Study demonstrated public support, as well as viable engineering methods for the trail. In 2016, WURA approved the Concept Study and agreed to move ahead with the JBTC taking the lead on trail development. Currently, the JBTC is working with WURA on land use permitting.
What polling data has been collected for this project? And what kind of support does it show?
Three independent surveys have been performed in Wallowa and Union Counties (1 solely in Wallowa County) by Eastern Oregon University (2 polls) and the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce (1 poll). In summary, a substantial majority of respondents to three surveys directed to different groups support the development of the trail from Elgin to Joseph, or to trail segments. There appears to be a broad and consistent positive opinion regarding the proposed Joseph Branch Community Trail by the majority of respondents. And the Wallowa County Chieftain counted the trail project among the Top 10 stories of 2016.