Visitors to the Palouse are drawn by the beautiful scenery, proximity of two land-grant universities and a welcoming community, to name a few.
Talk to people around the area and you can count the numerous and popular bike trails as another one of those selling points.
Now that summer weather has arrived, the Chipman Trail from Pullman to Moscow is an attractive destination for walkers, bicyclists and even roller bladers.
The trail is now 17 years old, and it’s hard to imagine the Palouse without it.
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Last week, though, we learned the future of the trail isn’t as secure as it used to be.
The Daily News reported the commissioners of the Port of Whitman County voted to abandon 37 miles of rail line from Colfax to Pullman and from Fallon to the Idaho state line.
If they are abandoned, the Palouse River and Coulee City Rail systems would no longer be connected to the “railbanked” line on which the Chipman Trail is dependent. If the trail couldn’t be pulled out of the railbank to return to use as a railroad, the trail land would have to be given back to the original private landowners.
The Pullman Civic Trust has already created a petition to railbank both rail lines between Colfax and Pullman, and have collected at least 1,200 names.
However, the editorial board was hard pressed to imagine any incentive that would entice a private property owner to take back the land the trail rests on.
Not only is it expensive to figure out whether you own that land or not, but any individual who wants to break up the Chipman Trail would have to face the scorn of community members who use the trail on a regular basis. Reclaiming the land for agriculture or putting in the water, sewer and electricity necessary for commerce would also be expensive.
Still, why risk the future of the trail at all?
Members of the Pullman Civic Trust will tell you trails create a positive economic impact in the community because they entice tourists to stay in town longer to go for a jog or bike ride.
If the Port of Whitman County strives to promote economic development, it would make sense to try to keep the Chipman Trail intact.