MCMINNVILLE, Ore.–

The Yamhelas Westsider Trail will convert the historic Westsiderail trail into a 17-mile multi-use recreational trail running from north of Highway 99W to just north of Gaston. It will link up with the State Highway Bicycle Trail and Henry Hagg Lake.

Phase one of the proposed Yamhelas Westsider Trail has begun. Next fall, trail supporters plan to buy nine miles of property from the current south end of the trail at Northeast Gun Club Road up to Cove Orchard Road north of Yamhill.

This is possible because the trail enthusiasts received a grant in 2014 from the National Parks Service (NPS).

The 17-mile trail will use the abandoned railroad lines to serve bikers, hikers, and equestrians, as both a recreational and transportation route for commuters.

The next step is to develop a conceptual plan for the trail. Over the next year, NPS’s Dan Miller will meet with Friends of Yamhelas Westsider Trail, which includes outdoor recreationalists, county officials, and local business owners. The team will discuss with NPS matters such as landscaping, trailhead signs, and other design questions, as well as gather public input.

Jayne Mercer, grants and special projects manager for Yamhill County, plans to reapply for the NPS grant next year, estimating conceptual-plan talks will take about 18 months.

Funding will come from a $1.4 million Transportation Alternatives Program grant awarded last year to Yamhill County from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The county will match it at 10.27 percent.

Although the once-busy railroad tracks have been removed, most of the land is still owned by Union Pacific. In Carlton, trail booster and businessman Ken Wright bought a few blocks of tracks near Ken Wright Cellars that he has pledged to donate.

Before purchasing all the land, the county must complete engineering and environmental studies to determine the trail’s impact.

Supporters are actively seeking grants and donations for the eight mile stretch in phase two of the plan. This stretch will bring the trail to an end north of Gaston, where highway 47 meets Scoggins Valley Road. The trail will pass by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Wapato Lake Wildlife Refuge.

Although there is no official partnership between trail supporters and FWS, its officials and Mercer are supportive of the trail efforts.

The trail will offer “incredible access to nature,” Mercer said. “One of the goals of the project is to allow local residents and visitors to the Yamhill Valley to have access to nature in a new way. By partnering with the Wapato Lake Refuge we would certainly achieve that goal.”

A tentative phase three between Gun Club Road and McMinnville has been brought up for discussion but financing is less certain and the railroad there is still active.

“I do not believe Union Pacific, the railroad owner, and Portland & Western, the railroad lessee and operator, will be interested in a shared-use situation,” said Bob Melbo, state rail planner for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Still, members have been chatting with property owners about collaboration. “It’s a long-term goal,” Mercer said.

This phase will not be included in the trail’s master plan, which Mercer expects to be created in 2016. By 2020, Mercer expects a portion of the trail to be usable.

Katrina Aman is an aspiring journalist who desires to be a person of positive influence. Particularly passionate about poverty alleviation and civil rights, she hopes her writing takes her where she can improve lives.