New Old Mill Trail completed in Lebanon

Milestone to be celebrated Nov. 17

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local
Lebanon’s trail system is getting a big punctuation mark with the completion of the city’s new Old Mill Trail, a paved bicycle-and-pedestrian path connecting Gill’s Landing, at the north end, with Riverview Park at the south.
The milestone will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the plaque display about a quarter mile to the northwest on the trail from Riverview Park.
The wide concrete path, created under the coordination of the Build Lebanon Trails group, parallels the South Santiam River for more than three-fourths of a mile, running along the the North-South Dike, or City Dike, which Linn County built after Lebanon flooded two winters in a row, in 1931 and 1932.
The dike permitted the development of several lumber mills in the area immediately to the west. Later, as the local lumber industry declined, the mills gradually shuttered. Since the late 1990s the area has been a wasteland, with remnants of roads and building foundations scattered amid Scotch broom and weeds.
The land now belongs to the Heatherington Foundation for Innovation and Education in Healthcare, which hopes to eventually donate most of the acreage for a medical campus.
When the trail is finished, the foundation will turn it over to the city of Lebanon for use by the city’s residents and visitors.
“It is the nicest trail for a hundred miles, at least,” said  Rod Sell, president of BLT, which has been developing the trail system since the group formed in 2005. “It’s a hard-surface concrete trail with lights, benches and kiosks. It’s a premier trail.”

BLT LEADERS, from left, Jessica Ruef, Joanne Nelson, Thad Nelson, Jan Diamentine and Rod Sell, with Bosun the dog, stand on the newly completed trail.

The completion is a result of contributions from many sources, BLT leaders say.
The city provided some early work of designing and surveying the trail, but public funds weren’t available for construction.
“The project is unusual in that virtually no tax dollars were used in its construction,” said Dr. Thad Nelson, secretary-treasurer of the BLT board, who donated $200,000 for the project, plus $50,000 in the form of a challenge grant with his wife Joanne. That grant was matched through dozens of donations from community members. The Heatherington Foundation provided $650,000 in funding, and BLT also pledged $25,000 to the project.
Local businesses involved in the project include Benton Electric, Briese Custom Concrete, John Dinges Landscape Co., G&S Crushing, Rick Franklin Corporation, Turrentine Engineering and Udell Engineering.
Major contributors are honored through individual stone plaques in a small plaza along the trail.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for us,” Sell said. “We’ve been at it for 16 years now. At this point all the little pieces are coming together.”
He credited the Heatherington Foundation, which also has donated land for the trail system, with maintaining an emphasis on quality for the Old Mill Trail.
“They are the reason we have concrete instead of asphalt. They said they wanted a nicer trail.”
Thad Nelson, a retired local general practitioner, also provided oversight.
“He’s a quality control guy, let me tell you,” Sell said “He made sure everything was as high-quality as possible.
“We’ve had lots of community support. We’re very fortunate. We have a really active Board of Directors.”
“This will be Lebanon’s first fully lighted trail,” Nelson said. Fifty-two down-facing LED pole lights will illuminate the trail for users while avoiding lighting up the night sky. The trail will have gravel shoulders, with grass planted in a band along the shoulders.
Kiosks at Gill’s Landing and another at Riverview Park will provide information about the history of the area – the bridges and the ferry that preceded them, the mills, and the floods and dikes.
The trail connects more than five miles of existing trails and five city parks. Pedestrians or cyclists can move between River Park, Gill’s Landing, Riverview Park, Cheadle Park and Porter Park, a distance of several miles, without traveling city streets.
While working on the Old Mill Trail, BLT also improved what is known as the Eagle Scout trail. Created in 1994 by Thor Deacon as an Eagle Scout project, the hiking trail begins at Gill’s Landing and runs through the woods on city-owned land along the river.
BLT volunteers widened the trail, added some fine crushed rock, and extended the trail across Heatherington Foundation land all the way to Riverview Park. Now hikers will be able to make a loop from Gill’s Landing by taking the Eagle Scout Trail in one direction and the Old Mill Trail in the other (although in winter the Eagle Scout Trail may be occasionally inundated).
“This is great for tourism and for the health and welfare of everybody in our community,” Sell said.
BLT volunteers have been essential to the success of the Old Mill Trail project. They have held work parties to pick up trash, cut away English ivy and brambles, and remove stones and other tripping hazards from the Eagle Scout Trail.
Sell said a group of volunteers, who gained the name “Dryhards” guarded the drying concrete of the Old Mill Trail for several days, chasing off humans, deer, and other critters who might otherwise leave footprints.
“They were out there every day and all night, keeping animals and people off the trail while the concrete dried,” Sell said.
Jan Diamantine and Darryl Black did historical research for the kiosks, constructed by Jared Richey and Regan Eivers of the Sweet Home Ranger Station.
Sell said BLT plans to plant 50 trees on the dike, which will be watered by volunteers, a “Water Brigade,” once a week during summers for three years. Other volunteer efforts will include invasive plant removal and general maintenance of the trail system.
Work parties are held monthly and new helpers are always welcome. For information on times, locations, and other details, visit buildlebanontrails.com.

– Editor’s note: Significant portions of this article were contributed by BLT Board Member Linda Ziedrich