Clatsop County has added a new outdoor recreation attraction to its parks system - and is looking to the public for ideas on what to do next.

The new Wetlands Interpretive Trail at Cullaby Lake Park was unveiled at a small ceremony Wednesday. The 1.5-mile hiking and biking trail loops along the edge of a large conifer wetland at the south end of the popular park.

"The trail opens year-round visual access to this previously hidden ecological treasure without harming the wetlands," said County Central Services Director Mike Robison.

The trail, funded largely through state grants, is one of the first new features added to the county's park system in a long time, a notable achievement for a system that's struggled with financial woes for several years.

With an eye to future projects, the county is seeking citizens' views on what else they would like to see at their local parks. A total of 300 surveys are being sent at random to local households, and are also available to other interested residents at most county offices or on the county's Web site, (www.co.clatsop.or.us)

The survey asks respondents to indicate how often they visited the county's 11 parks in the last year, how much information they have about the parks, activities they and their families most enjoy, and what adds or detracts from their park experience. People who complete the survey by Aug. 31 will be eligible for a drawing for one of five free annual park passes.

The results will be compiled for use in updating the county's 13-year-old Recreational Lands Master Plan. That plan lays out the goals and priorities for the parks system and recommends new projects. The update is due for completion next year.

The parks system, which includes Cullaby Lake, the John Day River Boat Ramp, Klootchy Creek Park with the world's largest Sitka spruce, and other parks, is emerging from a period of financial constraints that left the parks short of funding for maintenance and repairs. The money woes reached a point in which the county commissioners stopped seeking grants for new projects because of worries about the future maintenance costs of any new facilities.

State grants covered about two-thirds of the $36,823 cost of the Cullaby Lake Wetlands Trail, including an Oregon Parks Commission local government grant of $18,353, and $7,706 from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. County money from the Special Projects state timber fund covered the rest.

The Cullaby Lake trail links old paths, park roads and a railroad right-of-way in a loop around a portion of the Gearhart Bog, a large freshwater conifer wetland. The graveled pathway provides access for all users, including wheelchair-users, to the entire trail and a viewing platform.

The project involved several partners, including Seaside's Boy Scout Troop 642, which installed two benches, and North Coast Land Conservancy director Neal Maine, who provided guidance to county staff. The county Public Works Department and Inmate Work Crew helped park staff clear the trail.

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