The route of the Salmonberry Trail near Buxton. Photo: Chas Hundley

BUXTON - John Hamel doesn’t think much of the Salmonberry Trail.

Maybe that’s not the right way to put it. Hamel thinks of it often, mostly in terms that he assures the Post are unprintable. His list of complaints are exhaustive, well-researched, and personal.

They’re also not exactly what you’d expect from a member of the trail’s advisory committee.

“If somebody’s gonna cram something down your throat, maybe you can at least do something to make it better,” he explained during an interview at his home on Scofield Road in Buxton.

The Salmonberry Trail is a four-part, 86-mile project billed as a “world-class recreational attraction” that takes bikers and pedestrians from Banks to the Tillamook coast. Conceived as a replacement for the long-dead Salmonberry Railway, the trail has drawn both praise and criticism from the communities it plans to touch.

For Hamel, it’s mostly criticism.

It’s not business, he insists; it’s personal. The Banks-area segment of the trail would pass just a few yards from his bedroom deck. 

He and his wife inherited their property from her parents, and they’ve filled it with chickens, goats, dogs, and kids. If he wanted to live in Orenco Station, he says, he’d move to Orenco Station. 

“The majority of people that I talk to are very put off by [the trail] being in their backyard,” he said. “It’s intrusive.”

Former Timber resident Trinity Herr echoed Hamel’s frustrations “There’s this idea that all of Oregon is Portland’s backyard,” she said in a phone interview with the Post. “People don’t realize that it’s other people’s front yard.”

Herr, who moved to Timber as a child and lived there until she was 26, first heard about the Salmonberry Trail in the summer of 2016. A friend forwarded her finished plans for a trailhead smack in the middle of Timber. She was outraged.

“When these people don’t even ask you, but make a plan for an ‘international tourist destination,’ it’s not cool. Not acceptable,” Herr said, citing Oregon State Senator and Salmonberry Trial Intergovernmental Agency (STIA) Board member Betsy Johnson.

She pointed to a hair-raising anecdote as a foundation for her concerns. Back in 2015, anticipating bike traffic from the forthcoming Salmonberry project, a Portland entrepreneur purchased Timber’s historic post office with hopes of converting it into a bike shop. The project called for major renovations, including a full roof replacement. In the middle of construction, one of the contractors fell off of the building, and the building was left without a roof. Winter came, the post office flooded, and now Timber residents receive their mail via USPS services in Forest Grove.

“That’s what everyone in town is so afraid of,” Herr said. “People coming in and destroying our way of life.”

When Herr caught wind of the trailhead plans, she took an active role in community organizing. She got in touch with STIA members including Johnson, Carolyn McCormick, and Bob Terry, facilitated a talk at the Timber Fire Station. After a healthy turnout for that meeting, Herr organized several others. She says that STIA has rolled back its plans to construct a trailhead in Timber.

Other community members are less quick to outrage than Hamel or Herr. 

Debbi Craven, a house cleaner who’s lived off of Hahn Road for the past four years, lamented the potential for disruption, but expressed sympathy for visitors looking to connect with the Oregon wilderness.

“I think it’d be a great thing for horses,” Craven said, adding that the Banks-Vernonia trail has become a less-than-hospitable spot for the animals. “I used to ride [the Banks-Vernonia trail] all the time, but when they pave[d] it, it be[came] an interstate. People just get on their bikes, and they just think it’s their private little highway.” 

Jeff Walton, who owns and operates of the Vernonia Springs resort off of Route 47, says he couldn’t be more excited.

“What the Salmonberry Trail is going through now is almost identical to what the Banks-Vernonia Trail went through back in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he said in a phone interview. “They’re very similar in that they’re both trails going through rural communities, and the big fear is that, ‘Oh, we’re bringing Portland people into our community.’ Well, newsflash: those are exactly the people you do want coming into your community.”

Walton says that the Banks-Vernonia trail brings roughly 100,000 visitors through his own property in Vernonia every year, and he’s never had trouble with trespassers. 

“I personally think that if people would open their minds a little bit, it could create an incredible opportunity,” he said.