Methow Trails takes the lead on complicated project
Imagine hiking, running or biking on a non-motorized trail connecting Winthrop and Twisp, with a stop along the way at the Methow Valley School District complex.
If you like that idea, you’re in good company. Methow Trails, the nonprofit that manages the valley’s extensive Nordic trail system, recently conducted a community survey to gauge interest in future trail projects. The No. 1 priority, according to survey respondents: a trail connection between Twisp and Winthrop.
Methow Trails subsequently launched an exploratory effort to generate community interest in such a trail, reach out to private and public landowners whose properties might be traversed, and begin the challenging task of determining a workable route.
Methow Trails envisions a route that is family-friendly, generally level enough to be widely accessible, bike-commuter friendly and direct enough to be a reasonable alternative to driving, and that makes the school complex part of the equation.
Ideally, according to Methow Trails, the route will also stay west of the Methow River to avoid bridge crossings, and east of the more-rugged terrain around Elbow Coulee.
In addition to private landowners, Methow Trails is reaching out to the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“It’s been on our radar for a long time,” Methow Trails Executive Director James DeSalvo said of the connector trail in a recent interview. He pointed out that the county’s recreation plan, dating back to 2004, includes a reference to such a connector.
“It’s been an ongoing conversation, inside and outside of our organization,” DeSalvo said. Through the community survey, DeSalvo said, “we heard loud and clear that this was a top priority.”
Why Methow Trails, and not some other organization?
DeSalvo said Methow Trails has the experience, resources and motivation to take a leadership role. “We have 43 years of community knowledge about who we are and how we operate,” DeSalvo said.
“This is a community project, and we want to do it for the community,” DeSalvo said. At the same time, “we don’t want to tell the community where it goes.”
The highest-priority criteria for the trail’s route, DeSalvo said, “really narrows it down to the river/highway corridor,” meaning the Methow River and Highway 20. More narrowly, the best option is to stay west of the river because of the expense of building bridges, he said.
Landowner cooperation, DeSalvo said, is key to the project going forward. He believes that Methow Trails’ 43 years of experience in dealing with landowners will be valuable.
Currently, Methow Trails works with about 175 landowners to keep its trail system contiguous and open year-round. Erika Kercher Halm, Methow Trails’ outreach and access manager, said more than 200 landowners within a broadly defined corridor may be involved in what may end up being a 10- to 12-mile route between Winthrop and Twisp. Methow Trails has sent letters to those whose properties might possibly be involved, she said — but a handful are especially critical.
Two major property owners and have been contacted directly, DeSalvo said. And Methow Trails met with Gov. Jay Inslee during the governor’s recent visit to the valley to promote the trail, which will likely cross state-owned lands as well.
“No one has said yes or no so far,” DeSalvo said.
Committee at work
A subcommittee made up mostly of Methow Trails board members is taking the lead on the trails project. Former Methow Valley District Ranger Mike Liu, now retired from the U.S. Forest Service, is chairing that committee. Halm said the committee is meeting monthly, doing some initial legwork, and planning for a public feedback opportunity this fall. Some people who expressed interest in the trail as part of the community survey or have indicated an interest in the project will be specifically invited, she said, but it will also be open to the public. “We want to let people weigh in,” she said.
Meanwhile, Methow Trails is asking the Twisp and Winthrop chambers of commerce to endorse the project, as well as the towns of Twisp and Winthrop. “It’s critical to get their support,” DeSalvo said. He said the recent Headwaters Campaign to protect the upper valley from mining is a consensus-building organizational model that Methow Trails will try to emulate.
Methow Trails is also in the process of purchasing an 18-acre parcel, and having the property annexed to the Town of Winthrop, to serve as the organization’s new headquarters and to consolidate operations. That site could possibly be the launch point for the Winthrop-Twisp trail. “It’s a puzzle piece,” DeSalvo said.