Salmonberry Trail
Connecting Northwest Oregon

The majestic forests and rolling farmland of Oregon’s North Coast range are sewn together by a historic passage known today as the Salmonberry Corridor. This scenic rural route was once home to the Pacific Railway and Navigation rail line that connected the fertile valleys and windswept beaches of Tillamook County with the marketplace of Portland and the northern Willamette Valley.

The rail line has moved people and goods through the heart of Northwest Oregon's most remote country and rich timberland—an area rich with history—since 1911. From the early logging camps to the monumental efforts to reforest the area devastated by the Tillamook Burn[1], and the development of vibrant dairyand wine industries in Tillamook and Washington counties, this passage has long played an important role in connecting Oregonians with the natural resources of their state.

Catastrophic winter storms in 2007 severed this historic connection where it passes through the remote Salmonberry River canyon. Although western portions of the rail line remain active, the prohibitively high cost to restore rail service through the canyon means that this damaged passage must be re-imagined to best serve the area’s current and future needs.

A growing set of voices are seeking to reestablish and expand this unique resource for all of Oregon. The Salmonberry Trail seeks to enhance physical connections between communities with a new 86-mile mixed-use, non-motorized path. The trail will strengthen social and cultural relationships among rural, suburban and urban residents, provide world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, and help residents forge new ties to our past and future.

A movement is taking shape to create these connections, and we need you to join us.

Uniquely Oregon opportunities

Oregon’s dense forests have long served as the backbone of our state’s economy. For generations, our timber and natural resource industries drew workers and families, and sparked brisk business as rural towns thrived. Today, the rugged region is a melting pot of working forests, farms and natural habitats, and a resource in the rough for many people who enjoy the Pacific Northwest’s world-class outdoor recreation activities, such as biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

These rural towns seek to recast their economic futures to encompass more than their traditional timber-based past. Communities are eager to imagine a more vibrant and sustainable future that draws on their shared natural resource heritage, and adds family wage jobs. These towns are keen to strengthen their bonds with one another, united in the belief that a rising tide lifts all boats. 

Residents have proven to be resilient. The 2007 storm unleashed 20 inches of rain in two days. The cost to fully repair damages and reestablish the full rail line was estimated at $80 million, a 2007 figure that increases with each year. Environmental conditions are also worsening as the rail line erodes into streams, threatening one of Oregon’s most renowned winter steelhead runs. While families and businesses repaired their properties, the damaged railway has continued to stay dormant, only hinting at its catalytic potential for the region.

Already, daring outdoor enthusiasts see the opportunity at hand. Despite the inherent safety issues of accessing this remote terrain, they have begun exploring the deteriorating railway and experiencing the connections it represents.

A locally led, highly collaborative solution

The railway spans Washington and Tillamook Counties, between the town of Banks through the Tillamook State Forest and private landowners’ properties, connecting to the Port of Tillamook Bay. The rail line encompasses a large number of jurisdictions, owners and uses[2], each with strong interests in revitalizing the path.

These local voices spurred the discussion around a vision for collaboration, and sparked the idea for turning the old railway into a combination of rails-to-trails (converting a disused railway into a multi-use path for walking, cycling and horse riding) and rails-with-trails (trails running along working railways)—a new asset that benefits and connects these disparate interests.

This has led to the formation of an exciting coalition that draws from state, county, local and private parties. This approach is the only way to unlock opportunity for each community and for the region as a whole. While we already have an incredible start with diverse stakeholders leading the way, we will involve many more interested organizations and individuals. These perspectives will be key in crafting a shared vision that benefits the most people and unites Oregonians.

A clear path forward

The Salmonberry Trail represents an important step forward for a complete coastal trail system, connecting the City of Portland and its international airport (via Forest Park and the Banks-Vernonia Trail) to the coast, and potentially for a grand loop that includes connections to the Cascade Range and the Columbia Gorge.

Currently, the only accessible biking and hiking routes connecting the Rose City and the ocean span often-congested highways filled with coast-bound tourists and logging trucks. The Salmonberry Trail will connect non-motorized users with the beauty of the land and its abundant resources, and the history, charms and opportunities of Northwestern Oregon.

The Salmonberry Trail will be a unique passage with a rich history, a scenic setting, and the potential to connect urban, suburban and rural Oregon. The trail will serve diverse users from day hikers to trekkers and from families taking a morning ride to bikers riding the entire trail, and will connect into a wide network of existing recreational trails and parks, educational opportunities and heritage sites while providing a safer route for non-motorized users.

The trail will benefit all Oregonians by:

·      Supporting local economies by encouraging new business opportunities through tourism, recreation and related activities;

·      Connecting Oregonians to heritage and nature by educating urban and rural communities with the past, present and future of the region: the importance of the railway, the bounty of natural resources including working farms and sustainably managed forests, and the area’s unique culture;

·      Providing access for multiple users by improving and increasing access to public lands for a wide range of uses—including walking, biking, hunting, fishing and equestrian—and different ages and skill levels;

·      Creating a world-class recreational attraction that will draw people to the region and fortify Oregon’s standing as an unparalleled and diverse tourist destination;

·      Bolstering Oregon’s business sector by improving the quality of life that is often cited as a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining top employees;

·      Enhancing the options for a wide range of outdoor fitness and health-related activities for Oregonians and visitors alike;

·      Increasing safety for bikers and motorists by moving bikes off the highways and onto a safe non-motorized trail system; and

·      Maintaining and improving the environment by restoring and cleaning up sensitive river, forest and coastal environments.

The Salmonberry Trail follows the old rail line, between the town of Banks and the Tillamook Airport. It encompasses these communities and towns in between like Garibaldi, Rockaway Beach, Wheeler, Timber and Manning. It has been divided into four major segments (Valley, Canyon, Nehalem and Coastal) and 16 smaller “tiles” to help organize phases of project funding and development.

Stakeholders are stepping up

Local communities have led the charge. Key partners in planning and development have included the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Department of Forestry, Tillamook County, Washington County and the Port of Tillamook Bay, with Cycle Oregon and the Tillamook Forest Heritage Trust providing non-profit support. A broad and growing coalition of stakeholders and interested groups, called the Salmonberry Coalition, has served as a forum for input and ideas as the project has developed. See the current list of Salmonberry Coalition members here.

The collaboration has brought together numerous entities, with hopes of building an enduring structure to help address other regional opportunities. This has led to strong initial State legislative and departmental support:

·      The Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1516 that directs OPRD and ODF to work with the Salmonberry Coalition to identify potential sources of funding and management options by October 1, 2015.

·      The North Coast Regional Solutions Team, which includes the Department of Transportation (ODOT), Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD), Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and other state agencies, has identified the Salmonberry Corridor Trail project as a regionally-significant project.

·      Governor Kate Brown designated the Salmonberry Trail governance determination as an Oregon Solutions project and reaffirmed the leadership of the directors of the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, noting that the project addresses important State priorities for tourism, recreation and environmental education.

With grant funding from Cycle Oregon, the Coalition commissioned the landscape architecture firm Walker Macy to develop a comprehensive concept plan, which was completed in November 2014. In the spring of 2015, the Coalition engaged with Oregon Solutions, a Governor-appointed task force, to identify, assess and implement recommendations for project governance (including ownership and management).

A new intergovernmental agency has recently been established to lead the effort. This structure includes Washington County, Tillamook County, the Port of Tillamook Bay, Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation.

The opportunity is great

Because local governments have limited individual resources, and the vision spans several jurisdictions, the Salmonberry Trail team seeks to leverage public and private resources. The project will capitalize on efforts—such as Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) work to repave Highway 101 along the coast, and the Garibaldi water line extension—that contribute to this shared long-term vision.

As the trail can be developed in segments, individual projects will deliver immediate recreational and safety benefits while advancing the overall vision. Already, individual catalyst projects have been identified that will require funds in the range of $400,000 to $3.5 million, depending on matching grant requirements.

We are currently in the process of assessing federal, state legislative/departmental and private funding potential for this initiative. Some preliminary sources of possible state, county and local funds have been identified, including:

  • Metro: bond funding for right of way acquisition
  • City of Nehalem: proceeds from timber sales
  • Tillamook and Washington Counties: transient lodging/room taxes
  • Other State funding sources: these may include ODOT and the State Lottery, among others.

Important decisions regarding the scope and size of the project will need to be made, and we have begun to assemble the right group to help inform and propel these decisions into action.

Connect to the Salmonberry

There’s simply no better use for the railway corridor than the Salmonberry Trail. We have an unprecedented window and early momentum to begin a journey toward a vision that can bring Oregon communities together in a way not seen since the Tillamook Burn and to establish a world-class trail system that links a vibrant city with rural communities, abundant natural beauty and the Oregon Coast. We can leverage the timely legislative directive and early investments and work of groups like Cycle Oregon, Tillamook Forest Heritage Trust and others, and seek public/private partnerships that can advance segments of this project and establish the full vision of a complete trail system within reach.

We have an effective, diverse and growing coalition, and specific trail projects that support our vision and are ready to commence. The time is now to begin building new connections between urban and rural Oregon and to further enhance Oregon’s leadership and economic reward as an outdoor recreation hub.

Invest, lend your voice and connect with us. Help turn a resource in the rough into a world-class trail system that lifts local towns, connects the dots on the map, and shapes Oregon’s future.