Hiking And Biking At Oregon's Banks- Vernonia State Trail



Peace & Solace In The Forest: Banks- Vernonia State Trail

Local Ranger Describes Structure Of Forest In Oregon With A 21 Mile Long Trail For Hiking, Biking, And Horseback Riding

Old Railroad Tracks At Banks-Vernonia State Trail [Courtesy/Banks-Vernonia State Trail]

The deep forest is a place of solace but rarely directly accessible. But the texture of old technology that built this country’s infrastructure gives it a direct connection and viability to its past and the betterment of its future.

From the flat prairie farmlands of Tualatin Valley to the dense fir forests at the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range close to the Pacific, the virtually flat, paved Banks-Vernonia State Trail allows cyclists, hikers and equestrians to enter a peaceful 21 mile escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life where the only hint of civilization links the path to the trail's historic past.

Now a peaceful escape to a deep forest, the Banks-Vernonia State Trail was once a heavily used railroad.

In 1909, the Oregon American Lumber Company purchased the land and started to put a railroad in place in 1917. In two years, about 15 miles of line was built with the sole purpose of logging some Douglas Fir forests that had never been logged in the past. The Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway built the Gales Creek & Wilson River line in 1922.

“The reason why this area had not been logged at that point was because a lot of the valuable forest areas were not accessible,” explains L. L. Stub Stewart State Park Ranger Steve Kruger. “This railroad was the key to be able to do so. Other railroads refused to build a line expressly for hauling lumber. This one was created [specifically] to move timber products through northwestern Oregon, particularly from the Oregon-American lumber mill in Vernonia

Wild Animals Seen At Banks- Vernonia State Trail [Courtesy/Banks- Vernonia State Trail]
Couple Gets Ready To Bike The Trails At Banks- Vernonia State Trail [Courtesy/Banks- Vernonia State Trail]

These logging practices continued until the 1940s and collapsed when the trees in the area were exhausted. The Gales Creek & Wilson River line ceased operation when the mill closed in 1957.

The area though did not return to the peaceful existence it once knew but rather, entrepreneurship fueled its continuation in another form.

The Gales Creek & Wilson River line became a tourist attraction in the 1960s calling itself the “Vernonia South Park & Sunset Steam Railroad” with the line being leased to a steam sight-seeing train from 1960 to 1965.

According to Kruger, the business ended up being non-sustainable as the novelty began to wear off. “It takes a lot of work to maintain a track in an area with an ever-changing landscape,” explains Kruger. “They couldn't keep it going.”

The line was abandoned in 1973. The rails were salvaged and the right-of-way sold to the state highway department. The path lay dormant but protected through the 70s and 80s as local and state officials debated its use. Finally, the recreational trail was officially designated in 1990 with a completed paved, multi-use trail opened in 2010.

Despite being a fairly brand new trail, the Banks-Vernonia State Trail exists as a huge link to the area's busy logging past. There are 12 trestle bridges hikers, cyclists and horseback riders can cross over along the 21 mile trail, wood bridges made from railroad ties and other materials and structures made up from the rail line. This is a feature that Kruger feels makes the trail very unique.

Green Scenic View At Banks- Vernonia State Trail In Oregon [Courtesy/Banks- Vernonia State Trail]

“Some of these bridges are as long as 80 to 100 feet,” Kruger continues. “[Specifically] the Horseshoe Trestle gives you the ability to be more than 80 feet above the valley below.”

Kruger himself has worked with the Oregon State Park system since 2007, spending the majority of his career as a Park Ranger at the “Stub” Stewart State Park, which the Banks-Vernonia State Trail is a part of.

His favorite feature of the trail though is that there is an opportunity to camp at the “Stub” Stewart State Park at the trail’s midway point.

Journey to the 11 mile mark of the Banks-Vernonia State Trail and it opens up to the L.L. Stub Stewart State Park on the left. Campsites, RV sites, hike-in campsites, a horse camp, rustic cabin rentals and a day-use area all provide unique oasis points along with 6 miles of cross-country and free-ride bike trails.

A huge contrast from the busy, loud train tracks that once dominated the area with the falling of the irreplaceable trees, today the Banks-Vernonia State Trail is not about tearing down the forests, but escaping within them.

Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

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