Key trail opportunity raises concerns for future maintenance issues

The Parks, Trees and Trails Committee had to consider the long term effects of the city’s trail system during its meeting on Feb. 21.

Build Lebanon Trails Board President Rod Sell reported they received five properties from Georgia Pacific last December. The properties will give BLT access to be able complete half of a planned trail connecting Wheeler Street to River Park. The donated properties would provide access to the southern half of that connection, extending from the eastern end of Isabella Street to the West River Trail Extension Project (which will be completed this year at River Park).

Build Lebanon Trail volunteers look at the location where the West River Trail Extension will be built at River Park. Provided photo

“It’s probably the most important trail we’ve ever built,” Sell said. “We’ve been working for 18 years now to connect the south of Lebanon with the north of Lebanon.”

The whole area where this property is located is more than half a mile from any city park and has no connection to the trail system, he said.

“So this is it. This is the one that makes our city whole, that brings the north of the community with the south of the community.”

Sell said BLT kept ownership of the Old Mill Trail, which allowed them to fund and maintain it themselves. It’s a model they are considering replicating with the Georgia Pacific trail. They want to build the trail to at least a gravel system and, later, help fund the paving of it.

“We really believe that model saves a lot of funding and simplifies the whole process of getting the trail built, plus it speeds it up by almost a year if not more,” he said.

Sell also reported BLT has been trying to secure the right-of-way for the South Shore Trail that connects the soccer fields with Cheadle Lake. He believes BLT and the property owners are close to coming to an agreement. As with the previously stated model, BLT would keep ownership of that right-of-way as they build up the trail, after which time they will fund paving for it or donate it to the city and help the city secure funding for it.

Sell asked the committee for its recommendation and support to the City of Lebanon for the trails.

Interim City Manager Ron Whitlatch said the committee needs to consider city budget constraints, which may limit the city’s ability to maintain those trails. While acknowledging there is accessible funding through grants and BLT to build trails, there is still limited staffing to continue maintaining them.

“Our committee, Build Lebanon Trails, we’re all getting older and we only have a certain amount of time to build these trails,” Sell responded.

A diagram highlights in black where the Gill’s Landing Connector Trail will be completed.

It is the goal of the organization to install a full trail system throughout the city. BLT has a map that shows current trails as well as planned/hoped-for trails. Sell also reiterated BLT will own and maintain the trails until – and if – the property is donated to the city later down the road.

Committee President Rick Barnett, while in support of BLT’s efforts, expressed concern about the future of BLT and the citywide trails they’ve built, pointing out that the volunteer-run organization’s business model is that they build trails for the city with the goal of the city eventually taking over ownership and maintenance.

“I’m very cautious about unfunded maintenance,” Barnett said. “Right now we have Build Lebanon Trails, which is really a good resource for that. The other side is you have the opportunity to get some of this stuff done.”

Barnett essentially asked: Will BLT be around in 20 years and, if not, will the city be able to fund maintenance of the large trail system the organization created?

Sell said it would be nice if there were a parks district in the city, but acknowledged it’s hard to get one formed. Following more discussion among the committee, they agreed to make a recommendation for support from the City of Lebanon for the Georgia Pacific trail with the acknowledgement that future maintenance needs should be considered. Regarding the South Shore Trail project, the committee agreed to express support of BLT’s acquisition and creation of the right-of-way and trail.

Skateboarders recreate at the Lebanon Skate Park where new fencing has been installed. Photo by Sarah Brown

In other business:

◆ Public Works Operations Manager Jason Rush reported city staff are almost finished installing fencing around the skate park. He also reported there has been an “uptick” in vandalism and city staff cannot explain why there’s an increase. A tree on 12th Street is scheduled for removal because it is impacting the sidewalk and street.

◆ Whitlatch reported that as the city goes through its budget, there will be two parks staff who will not be rehired for the season. This move ultimately leaves two parks staff remaining.

◆ Barnett shared about local government grant opportunities through the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. He said it’s “an extremely good time” for the City of Lebanon to go after grants this year because funding through lottery purchases is much larger than normal. The committee approved a motion to provide support to the city in this endeavor.

◆ Rod Sell reported they were able to secure private funding for the Gill’s Landing Connector Trail. The trail will cross through Gill’s Landing, connecting the West River Trail at Riverside Park to the Old Mill Trail just southeast of Gill’s Landing.