State Parks works with county on rails and trails, and rest stop projects

Rest Area Closed The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department recently expressed willingness to work with Tillamook County leaders to discuss solutions one short-term and one more long-term project.

In the short term, County officials are looking to work with OPRD for solutions to the pending spring, 2012 closure of the South Prairie Rest Area, after the Oregon Department of Transportation announced in September 2011 that it can no longer pay to keep it open. A more long-term collaboration is the potential for a “Rails to Trails” project that would convert the county’s 101 miles of unused rail line into a pedestrian or cycling path.

On Dec. 21, the Tillamook Board of County Commissioners wrote a letter to Tim Wood, Director of OPRD, formally asking if the department would consider taking over the rest area.

In his Jan. 4 response to the letter, Wood said that he has “asked his staff to take a broader look at the role and services that the OPRD provides in Tillamook County and to consider the role and services of other outdoor recreation providers such as the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and the county’s park system.”

According to Wood’s letter, this broader look could help the county find other options for consideration as it faces the closure of the rest area.

The search for an agency or group to take over the rest area came after ODOT announced in late September that the lavatory and grassy area, about four miles south of Tillamook, was one of several rest areas across the state slated for closure as the department faces increasing budget cuts. The cost to operate the rest area south of Tillamook costs ODOT approximately $70,000 per biennium.

Although the original target date for ODOT to shut down the rest area was “spring of 2012,” Tillamook County commissioners, along with State Senator Betsy Johnson requested that the closure be delayed as long possible to allow them to work with OPRD or find another alternative for keeping it open.

“We are trying to give all the players adequate time to examine all options,” said ODOT Public Affairs Specialist Lou Torres.

On a longer timeline, the OPRD will be meeting Thursday, Jan. 19 to discuss the feasibility of converting the largely unused Tillamook County Railroad to a non-motorized vehicle path. The meeting will be held in Salem between the OPRD and the Port of Tillamook Bay, as well as potential partners the Oregon Department of Forestry, Cycle Oregon and Tillamook County.

“This exciting prospect could bring added value to Nehalem Falls Campground, Cougar Valley State Park and other public recreation amenities in the county and provide the opportunity to shape outdoor recreation management in the county for the future,” Wood stated.

The Port of Tillamook Bay, which owns the rail line and its right-of-way, announced in late November, 2011 that it is
interested in partnering with OPRD to determine the feasibility of a rails-to-trails project in Tillamook County and also whether it would be possible to do a “rails-and-trails” project. This would allow a portion of the rail line to remain in place, as it is also in negotiations with the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, which operates a tourist train on a portion of the rail line.

The Port stopped operating its rail cars in December 2007 after a major storm took out portions of the rail line. In lieu of
restoring use of the rail line, the Port received nearly $44 million in alternate project funds from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency.

Wood invited the Board of Commissioners to meet prior to the trail meeting to begin discussions on the rest area situation.

For more information on campgrounds in Oregon, please visit 5 Star Campgrounds.

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