Parks Service expert says organizers need to reach out for more public supportWarrenton - Imagine walking or bicycling through a beautiful wilderness right inside the city of Warrenton, or hiking along the Columbia River, marveling at the beautiful view.

Realizing that dream is the mission of the Warrenton Trails Association, which envisions a well-maintained 25-mile-long loop through the city and some adjacent federal, state and county land, with attention given to historically significant sites along the way.

"That's the whole idea in a real big nutshell," said Warrenton's police chief, Robert Maxfield, who chairs the trails group. Formed in 2003, the group has recently achieved nonprofit status. It has funding from the city of Warrenton and has developed a 60-page concept paper complete with colored maps. The paperhas been been presented to city and county officials and discussed informally with the Port of Astoria.

"It's strictly a concept. We still have a lot of hoops to jump through," Maxfield said.

Nevertheless, Maxfield said the lengthy document puts the group way ahead of most similar organizations, in the opinion of Alexandra Stone, of the National Park Service's Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program. He said Stone, who is lending her assistance and expertise to the trail project through a technical assistance grant, made that observation at a trails group meeting Tuesday. But he said Stone told the group it needs to reach out more to the public by enlarging its board and providing more opportunities for community input.

In response, Maxfield said the trails group is planning walks and cleanup days and is putting together a new and more accurate brochure. More signs are also in the works to direct people to the 4.5 mile section of the trail which is already paved.

"We have tremendous scenic byways. You don't feel like you're in the city. It's like you're in the wilderness," Maxfield said.

That segment, known as the Warrenton Waterfront Trail, runs atop dikes paralleling the Columbia River estuary and the Skipanon River, from the kayak dock at Second Street near downtown Warrenton, westward to the Hammond Mooring Basin. The dikes, which are necessary to keep Warrenton above water, also provide a ready-made route for the trail.

"I want to pave 'em all," Warrenton Planning Director Patrick Wingard said of the city's dikes. "They're nice vantage points in the estuary and along the river."

Wingard said the city and the trails group cooperate on improving and extending the city's network of trails, as part of the 1994 Warrenton Revitalization Plan. "We select segments of the trail to work on independently, so as not to duplicate each other's work," Wingard said.

In the 2004-2005 city budget, $30,000 was allocated for trails improvement. Of that, $14,000 was used for a kayak dock at Skipanon River Park. The rest was used as a cash match to leverage a $36,000 Oregon Parks and Recreation Department grant. As a requirement of that grant, the park will be made accessible to handicapped people. The city will convene a public workshop to get input on the improvement project, Wingard said.

Wingard said Skipanon Park is one of many amenities along the trail system within the city. Others include the Lighthouse Park, Eben Carruthers Park, Seafarers Park - with its U.S. Coast Guard memorial monument - and the Hammond Mooring Basin. Maxfield noted that some sites along the trail have historic significance, such as a spot at Tansy Point at the end of Northwest 13th Street, where local Indian tribes signed a treaty with a representative of the federal government.

The trail group's concept paper calls for extending the trail from the Hammond Marina into Old Fort Stevens, and from there to Burma Road, De Laura Beach Lane and Ridge Road to Rilea Armed Forces Training Center and the Fort Clatsop to Sea Trail now being developed by the National Park Service as part of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. From there it will run along Fort Clatsop Road and Oregon Highway 105, then tie into Fort Clatsop Road, and finally loop back on the city-owned dike that borders the airport and back to the Skipanon Marina in Warrenton.

About half of that 25 mile route is paved, and nearly half of the rest of the route is on top of dikes that are level and probably suitable for paving. Maxfield said the trails group will identify some sections of the trail to be made more user-friendly by adding benches and kiosks.

An excellent trail system will enhance the quality of Warrenton life and give more people access to scenic areas without the worry of getting hit by cars, said Maxfield, who envisions the trail eventually tying into the Astoria Riverwalk and Fort Clatsop National Memorial.

The trails group is looking for people to help them work on the project. "We think it's very viable," Maxfield said, "but we still have a long way to go."

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