In central Washington, the rail-trail we know as the Iron
Horse State Park is one of the truly iconic trail experiences. Part of the
broader John Wayne Pioneer Trail system stretching across the state, the Iron
Horse's 82 miles pass through one of the most spectacular landscapes in America.
Just not at the moment.
In 2011, the threat of falling debris and rocks inside a
number of the trail's tunnel passages caused the tunnels to close, effectively
shutting off the trail to visitors looking for a long trail ride or hike. While
a number of the tunnels have been reopened since then, tunnels 46 and 47
between Cle Elum and Ellensburg in Kittitas County remain closed, pending
funding for the necessary repairs.
Local groups in Washington, including the Mountains to Sound
Greenway Trust, are now urging the state to make an appropriate investment in
its state parks and set aside the $3 million it would take to reopen the
We think this is just smart business. A $3 million
investment to repair the currently closed tunnels would return many times that
amount in trail-based tourism revenue to nearby communities.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has pioneered the use of trail
user visitation and spending surveys to accurately assess the value of
the trails tourism economy along destination rail-trails. Thorough studies of
comparable rail-trails elsewhere in America have revealed an economic impact of
between $10 million and $40 million dollars a year, depending on the length of
the trail and number of commercial operations nearby, much of it coming through
lodging and food expenditure.
Repairing the tunnels would reopen one of America's most
spectacular rail-trails and attract trail users from around the world to
Destination rail-trails like the Iron Horse are big
business, and communities across America are investing a lot of time and money
to build trails that will attract visitors. Not far to the east, the Route of
the Hiawatha in Idaho, a spectacular rail-trail but much shorter than the Iron
Horse, gets more than 40,000 users between May and October alone. The challenge
there is that there are not many communities or businesses close by that can
capitalize on all this traffic. Along the Iron Horse, there are a number of
communities that are perfectly situated to tap into this booming, and
According to a 2012 study by the Outdoor Industry
Association, Americans spend about $81 billion in bicycling gear and trips each
year, more on than they spend on airplane tickets and fees.
"Investing $3 million to reopen the Iron Horse State Park
rail-trail would be a very wise investment for the state, and one that will
repay itself many times over in additional consumer spending on meals and
accommodation," says our Manager of Trail Development in the Northeast, Carl
Knoch, who has been at the forefront of trail user economic impact study. "At
82 miles, the trail is long enough to require overnight stays in local
communities, and that's when businesses capture the most economic benefit. But
while the tunnels remain closed, trails tourists will go elsewhere. Washington
has this remarkable asset that is worth many millions in tourism revenue, but
it is not being maximized."
In addition to reopening the Iron Horse tunnels, Mountains
to Sound Greenway Trust is calling for state investment in continued trail
construction in the region, including the Bellevue Regional Trail, and in
Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Basin and Raging River State Forest.
We agree that investing in the preservation and promotion of
Washington's remarkable natural resources makes good sense for the state's
residents and businesspeople. Lend your support at mtsgreenway.org
Photo of riders on the Iron Horse courtesy funplaceswashington.com
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