Trail plan gains speed

By By Terri Harber October 05, 2012 09:35 am

By Terri Harber

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Baker County commissioners on Wednesday heard about a plan to designate a non-motorized trail from Sumpter to Bates.

The pathway, being called the Sumpter Valley Railroad Mainline Trail, would run 40 miles total and be located next to the railroad tracks that carried the Stump Dodger. This line hauled timber.

“The intent is to preserve the history and allow access from the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Recreation Area to Bates State Park. The 40-mile trail will bring visitors to and through the surrounding communities, giving local businesses an opportunity to showcase and promote the unique area,” according to the project proposal.


Hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the activities envisioned along this pathway.

It’s a path with gradual grade changes. The maximum grade in the rail bed is just 4 percent. So it’s viewed as user-friendly for families and older users, said Karen Spencer, the county’s Parks and Recreation director.  

Sections of the Baker White Pine and Oregon Lumber Co. grades could be connected to create a trail system. 

Spencer said much of the mainline is intact and many areas would require only “tree thinning and surface grooming.”

for users who would travel on foot or bicycle. 

The county is a major partner in the trail plan. Other partners include Baker Loves Bikes, the Sumpter Valley Railroad and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. 

The state is encouraging more trails and other outdoor experiences be made available in Eastern Oregon, Spencer said.

The trail plan will be presented to the U.S. Forest Service, which controls much of the trail area. The county would seek permits or enter into an agreement with the federal agency to maintain it.

Its design doesn’t accommodate motorized traffic on any sections that are not already in use as a road or ATV trail. The idea is to minimize impact so sections of the line where original railroad ties and infrastructure remain could be viewed by people using the trail.

Preservation also is an important aspect of this plan.

Obtaining easements in some areas would be necessary. Diverting the trail around those sites might be possible if use arrangements aren’t possible, Spencer said.

One potential source of money for the project could come from the state’s Recreation Trails Program. Donations and help from volunteers are other possible ways to advance the project. 

Dredge Tailings

No one from the public attended the hearing about changing the language regarding use of the Sumpter Valley Dredge Tailings area controlled by Baker County — roughly 1,600 acres.

Testing to determine whether the area might be worth reworking can’t occur until the county code is amended. 

Several groups have shown interest in trying to extract gold that might have been left in the ground after miners stopped dredging there nearly 60 years ago. The work occurred originally from 1913 to 1954. 

The current use plan for the dredge tailings area was created in 1979 and revised in 1984. It didn’t include mention of any “ability to apply to mine,” said Mark Bennett, director of the county’s planning department.

Changes would allow digging in areas more than 2,000 yards from the center of Highway 7 — the current border.

It would also expand the railroad buffer zone to 75 feet from the centerline of the railroad bed. The current buffer is 34 feet from the same centerline.

One written protest came in immediately after the Planning Commission approved the changes. 

Johanna Sedell has concerns about how long-term mining would affect the area — which she described as an important cultural resource and wildlife habitat. It could eliminate hunting and recreation opportunities because of how that habitat would be affected.

She also believes downstream consequences of mining exploration “have not been adequately researched or explained to the community.”

The venture likely wouldn’t be profitable enough to fund jobs, provide revenue to the county and the miners involved, let alone the “millions of dollars necessary to (ensure) the rehabilitation of the channel and floodplain,” Sedell wrote.

Commissioners have scheduled a final hearing on the proposed changes in the ordinance for 10 a.m. on Oct. 17 at the Baker County Courthouse. They could vote to approve it at that time.