Developing a multi-use trail system on the Lyle Cherry Orchard property is starting to come together, at least on a conceptual level.
A subcommittee was previously formed on a volunteer basis to help sort out the logistics and design of a trail system that might be developed on the Cherry Orchard property and part of the adjoining Department of Natural Resources land.
At a public meeting on May 7, members of the subcommittee, adjoining landowners, and interested and concerned members of the community met to discuss the elements of a trail system that would or would not be desired if the trail system were to come to fruition. Dan Miller, a community planner with the National Parks Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, has worked with the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, who own the 550-acre Cherry Orchard property, from the beginning.
“Basically this is going to serve as a guiding doctrine for (the subcommittee) as they develop the trail system proposal,” Miller said.
Members of the community both in opposition and in favor of a developed, non-motorized trail system on the Cherry Orchard property made their voices heard at the meeting. Concerns over too many hiking and biking trails near Lyle, too much traffic being brought into town, maintenance, trespassing, Lyle’s tax base, and more have all been brought up at previous meetings regarding trail planning and they were all rehashed at the May 7 meeting.
One community member in particular who has been the straw that stirs the drink in terms of rallying adjoining landowners and Lyle residents against more trails has been Oren Johnson. A landowner himself, Johnson has been a ringleader in deterring support for the Gorge Towns to Trails effort being pushed by the Friends, which would establish a connected trail system throughout the Gorge.
“All this planning sounds as though there is a presumption that this in fact going to happen. At what point is it that this is submitted to the Gorge Commission or something is in fact submitted to the county? At what point are they engaged in this?” Johnson asked at the meeting. “The (Lyle) school board and the community council have withdrawn their support for towns to trails, as did Skamania County’s Commission. I mean, that’s part of the reality, too.”
Miller said before planning reviews can be conducted by Klickitat County or the Columbia Gorge Commission a proposal must be in place, hence the need for the trail subcommittee to continue its work establishing desired elements and onto the next step — actually mapping out a proposed trail system.
In terms of the 750-acre DNR land the Friends would like to include in the new trail system, around 6-10 miles of trail could be open to mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and equestrian use. As with the rest of the trail, no motorized vehicles would be permitted and all existing roads would remain open for fire control and emergency access.
Miller also said Larry Leach, Klickitat District Manager for DNR, asked that if possible no official trailhead be developed off of Centerville Highway if possible. Those in attendance in the equestrian community pointed out that would make it difficult for horse trailers to access the new trail system, especially since equestrian use is currently not allowed on the existing hiker-only Cherry Orchard trail.
“I just want to say that it can be worked out but it does feel looking at this that equestrian is being put at the bottom of the list. If you don’t provide a means for people to bring their horses there then you’re excluding everyone who took the survey,” said Therese Leon, of Lyle.
According to the trail system elements listed for the Cherry Orchard, the Friends might allow some equestrian use only if horses are ridden from DNR lands, it were environmentally appropriate, and is separate from the hiking and biking trails.
The desired trail elements for the Cherry Orchard also included connecting the trail to Lyle and to DNR lands, creating the trail so that users can loop from start to finish, and potentially looking at a trailhead on land owned by the Friends in Lyle.
Dogs are allowed off-leash currently on the Cherry Orchard property, but if environmental reasons call for it that could change. Leash law does not apply to DNR lands.
Around 6-12 miles of trail is hoped to be established primarily on DNR lands for mountain bikers. A loop system with beginner and intermediate trails that could connect to Lyle through the Cherry Orchard property is included in the trail system elements, but that is dependent on environmental and cultural impact.
Having little or no effect on the hillside where the Lyle letters are is listed as a priority, as is keeping trails at least 250 feet from private property. That also falls in line with the trail subcommittee’s wish to avoid planning trails that have views of private structures and to create “visual screenings to prevent sight of structures” where necessary.