Mile-long river path closing in on reality

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Build Lebanon Trails has big plans for some former mill property along the South Santiam River that it aims to make the crown jewel of the system the group has systematically created over the past 15 years.

THE OLD MILL TRAIL will run parallel to the Santiam River and ultimately connect several other trails built by BLT. Illustration courtesy of Build Lebanon Trails

The BLT project is at the top of the list for recommended funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant Program, which would provide $261,065 to help build the new trail.
Since 2005, BLT has completed the development of more than 25 percent of its proposed 50-mile trail system in Lebanon.
Its focus for 2020 included raising funds for, and beginning the development of, the “Old Mill Trail,” a nearly one-mile extension from Gill’s Landing to Riverview Park.
“The Old Mill Trail is going to be the nicest trail that we’ve ever developed in Lebanon, and one of the most important ones,” said Rodney Sell, founder of BLT. “It’s important because it makes a major link that links together several miles worth of trails.”
The Old Mill Trail, named for its location at the old Willamette Industries and Weyerhaeuser mill site, will connect existing trails throughout the city, as well as five parks, providing service trail access where there isn’t yet any, Sell said.
The current property owner, the Heatherington Foundation, donated the trail right-of-way, and added $400,000 to provide a quality concrete trail that will last a long time, Sell said.
“Eventually, the owner of that property wants to donate to the city all the land from the berm to the river, so it will be like a linear park,” noted Thad Nelson, who’s also given a substantial amount toward the construction of the trail.
Nelson said in a few years they would like to install soft trails along the river that would connect to the Old Mill Trail, as well.

BLT has plans for 50 miles of trails in and around Lebanon that will connect and provide recreation for the community.
Illustration provided by BLT
The Nelsons walk the dirt path on the old mill property, where they expect to see pavement in the next year or so.

The Nelsons offered an additional challenge grant toward the Old Mill Trail, ready to match $50,000 if BLT can raise as much.
“We’re still in the process of raising those funds to be able to cover the grant matching needed,” Sell said.
The Old Mill Trail is budgeted at $923,573. It will be a lighted trail measuring 4,100 feet long and 11 feet wide.
“It’s gonna have park benches, natural play areas, interpretive signage and universal design standards,” Sell said.
A garden society in Japan offered to plant cherry trees along the trail, as well, in honor of Hoichi Kurisu, who created the Japanese gardens at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital and Boulder Falls Inn, Nelson said.
Plans for the rest of the 60 to 75 acres of old mill property are intended for expansion of COMP-Northwest schools, medical businesses and, possibly, housing, Nelson said.
In order to receive the grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant Program, approval must be given from Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission, and National Park Service.
The Old Mill Trail will present a unique opportunity to have, basically, a riverfront recreational path, Nelson noted.
“You can see the river from here through the trees, and if you thin the trees out, you’ll be able to see the river and there will be a trail down there closer to the river.”