By Katy Nesbitt
Wallowa Valley Online
ENTERPRISE, Ore – The Joseph Branch Trail Consortium has agreed to appeal the Wallowa County Planning Commission’s decision denying the group’s request to build a trail between Joseph and Enterprise along the railroad.
In February the Commission turned down the Consortium’s application for a conditional use permit to develop a 10-foot wide gravel trail for pedestrians, cyclists and horseback riders. March 26 the Commission voted to approve findings drafted by Wallowa County Planning Director Franz Goebel, further confirming the application’s denial.
A trail along the Joseph Branch Railroad line has been a dream of northeastern Oregon recreationists since Union and Wallowa counties purchased the railroad nearly 20 years ago. The Trail Consortium formed to support the trail’s construction and in 2014 Oregon Parks and Recreation teamed up with Eastern Oregon University to develop a trail feasibility study along the 63-mile Wallowa-Union Railroad that runs between Joseph to Elgin.
Today the railroad is primarily used between Elgin and Minam for excursion outings from May to September.
Upon the study’s completion the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority gave the Trail Consortium permission to pursue the funding and land use compliance necessary to build the trail in segments. The six miles from Joseph to Enterprise, between the rodeo grounds and Marr Pond, was identified as one of the least expensive areas in which to build – and a stretch that would likely be heavily used.
In February Dr. Ken Rose, a surgeon at Wallowa Memorial Hospital, spoke on behalf of the medical community in support of the trail at the public hearing held at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds Cloverleaf Hall. He said exercise helps prevent disease and early mortality.
“We have a lot of members of the community with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity,” Rose said. “I think it is a great idea to put this underutilized facility into use.”
Josh Hulse of Wallowa spoke in opposition to the trail, worried that eventually a segment would be developed near his home along the railroad in the lower Wallowa Valley.
“The main aspect of our property is privacy,” Hulse said.
Penny Arentsen, the Trail Consortium’s president, said the group will be preparing an appeal in the coming weeks.
The Planning Commission did approve two other conditional use permits Tuesday night – one for a cell tower to be erected north of Enterprise along Highway 3 and another allowing transitional housing for men on parole.
The Commission issued the permit for transitional housing to Point of Connection Church outside of Joseph with the condition its owners apply for proper licensing with the Oregon Health Authority and show approval within 120 days.