January 23, 2017

An open letter to the legislator for the 9th Legislative District of Washington State

Joseph Schmick, Colfax WA

by Ted Blazak

Dear Joe,

Normally a State Representative would be celebrating the news; WA Parks just allocated 6 million dollars to make improvements right here in our own district. But I read in this paper last week that you're going to try to stop that money from going through; you think it's a mistake. You're going to do your gosh darn level best to make sure Tekoa, Roasalia, Malden, Lind, Pine City, Ewan, Ritzville and all the other small towns you represent along the John Wayne Trail don't get a chance to benefit from this use of their own tax dollars.  And you made this commitment even before reading the budget the Governor has yet to release.

You're doing all you can to make sure we in the Palouse won't be able to get the jobs that these tourist dollars could create or the tax dollars these visitors would generate for our small cities.  You won't make it easy for your constituents to enjoy the recreational and health opportunities a repaired trail offers. Nor will we benefit from the immediate economic impact of construction crews in our small towns.

I respect your opinion Joe that you don't much appreciate the John Wayne Trail, after all beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but honestly that's a real shame because it's an extraordinarily epic trail. It crosses the whole state and ends in Tekoa. It is one of only two cross state trails in the nation.

It starts in the dense forests near Seattle, rich with streams and lakes, and then onto the dramatic and desolate scab lands with unique and powerful rock formations, before ending in the peaceful pastoral beauty of our Palouse.  At 285 miles long it offers beautiful and dramatic vistas with almost every turn. It is a rare ribbon of beauty upon which every Washingtonian may cross their state on foot, bike, or horse.

Two years ago you conspired with your friends and neighbors to close the trail to the public and give control of the land to them. In the final days of the 2015 legislative session you secretly inserted a budget proviso to do their dirty work.

No public notice was given or comment allowed.  You hid it from us Joe. With a slight of hand under the table 6,000 acres of public land the State paid 3 million dollars for in 1985 was given to your buddies for free.  

Fortunately, a miraculous typo thwarted your land grab. You only closed it from point A to Point A, right dab in the middle of the Columbia River instead of the 135 miles you intended to. That's why the trail is still open today, somebody made a typo.  

Remember when you and I first met in Tekoa Joe, at the Slippery Gulch Festival, you were there all day glad handing for votes.  You walked right past the sign that said “Welcome to the Home of the End of the John Wayne Trail” and you and I spoke, and I told you all about the work we were doing and how important the trail and the trestle are to our town. Just two weeks prior to that conversation Joe you had closed trail in secret and you wouldn't tell me to my face. You just let me yammer on and on about how good the trail is and how important it is to our community. In fact neither you nor Mary Dye would tell anyone in Tekoa that day Joe, you kept it to yourselves. No one knew you closed the trail, and why would we? That's the type of information you only get from your trustworthy, helpful, democratically elected State Representative.

You probably figured by the time we rediscovered that our trail was closed it be too late for us to raise an objection.  A done deal with no public recourse and a trail plowed under forever. Nothing we poor saps could do about it so on that day you waved your re-election signs, passed out candy to our children and lied by omission to all of us. But you didn't know about the typo that day did you Joe?  The typo's what got you Joe.

And you know what Joe, in a year and a half you've never apologized for that. You never said you were sorry. Not once did you say “Boy I really wish I checked in with you guys first” or “I clearly underestimated the support and potential this trail has” or “I shouldn't have mislead and hidden my actions from you”.

Nope instead for you Joe it's remained a personal vendetta, rather than the community concern it is. It's now mainly all about the extent of your power and the sensitivity of your ego. And now from where you sit on the appropriations committee in the majority, for you it's payback time.

And what funding are you really attacking Joe? You can't monkey about with the ROC/WWRP grant program allocation.  That's four of the six million. That's a fund set aside special just so politicians like you can't mess with it. That four million is going for “the big three” trail repair projects. It's for the redecking of the Tekoa Trestle so that pedestrians may cross it safely. It's also for the Renslow Trestle that runs across I-90 (by Beverly) and to improve the trail bed from Malden to Rosalia. In less than two years there will be ribbon cutting ceremonies at those locations. Those are celebrations you can't stop Joe.

No just about the only way you can hurt the towns you represent this year would be to take away the two million dollars in funds the Parks Department allocated for new trail heads in Rosalia and Tekoa or the engineering studies for Rock Lake. From your powerful position on the appropriations committee you can crush those hopes Joe. You can make sure that tourist who wanted to come to our small towns don't have a place to park or use the bathroom before they walk on our trestles. You can do that Joe, you have that power.

The most ironic part of your opposition to this trail management plan Joe, is that you are the one who started the process.  You're the one that asked the Parks Director to establish a mediation process between the trail users and the adjacent landowners to resolve this matter.

We sat there in the Moses Lake Fire Station, myself and 11 other stakeholders, six people from each side of the issue, off and on for seven months.  Many serving on this advisory committee were there because you personally recommended them. And Joe we hammered it out. We talked fences, tracking trail usage, litter patrols, ranger service, weed control, and boundary adjustments. Numerous compromises were made by those involved and a well thought out detailed plan emerged

I'm sorry you could never make any of these meetings Joe. Other state legislators, parks commissioners, mayors, and various officials were able to. Perhaps instead of trashing this trail management plan now you could have weighed in more when it was being developed. You were certainly invited.

Now last week you said the McCleary decision is the reason why Tekoa and Rosalia should not get a trail head. Now that's what we call a “politician's tale”, it almost sounds like it's true. But Joe there is no way in hell that you stopping us from a having a toilet and some parking is going to solve Washington's billion dollar education crises.

And I want you and the public to know we're raising money too. It's not just parks that is fixing this trail. Just this year alone our little group in Tekoa has raised $53,000 in direct trail repair grant money. Other organizations around the state are raising money too. The John Wayne Trail Riders Association has spent about $20,000 a year on trail-repair for decades.

And Joe if you don't want to listen to me, listen to your fellow public servants. 39 Cities in the state of Washington have taken the rare and bold step to pass resolutions asking the WA legislature to fund repairs to the trail. 39 respected, thoughtful governing bodies went out of their way to make sure their state legislature, their citizens and you Joe knew that they valued this cross state trail network and don't want you messing with it. 12 of these are right here in your own 9th district (in red);








































Thousands of Washingtonians are now circulating petitions that will be delivered to your fellow caucus members at their district offices.  Various newspapers across the state have written editorial statements encouraging trail development rather than closure.  

At what point Joe are you willing to listen to your fellow elected officials, your fellow Washingtonians, and your own constituents. We Want Our Trail JOE!!

Oh and by the way this has been all very helpful to Tekoa this past summer. Although the trail is still in rough shape near us, we have seen a real spike in tourism.  We had all sorts of bicyclists camping here, eating at our restaurants, and shopping at our stores. It could get a lot better though with this trail head, if you would please let us have it.

Now Joe in the spirit of Christmas, I'd like to end this letter to you on a positive note. I'd like to suggest that rather than working so hard to defund the trail that instead you embrace it's economic potential and work with trail advocates like myself to make sure the trail improvements have an Eastern Washington thumbprint on them.

Let's protect the farmers who live near the trail!! Let's work together to make sure the trail works for them too.

Let us get rid of any permit fees for using the trail to transport farm equipment. Let us work together to make sure that there is an active citizen led litter and crime watch patrol. Let us talk about boundaries and fences. Let us develop better signage and access points to the trail and better continuity so as to avoid trespassing issues. Let us install drinking wells so ranchers do not have thirsty cyclists knocking on their doors. Let us connect landowners with the newly assigned trail maintenance engineer. Let us do more weed control. Let us make sure there is fair representation of Eastern WA farmers and ranchers on the ongoing trail advisory committee to deal with other issues as they arise.

Let us get together Joe, make plans and a joint public statement. Let us change things so that Washington's Cross State Trail, doesn't end in the Palouse, it begins here!  

There is no reason why in the season of peace and new beginnings we cannot find a way to walk down this path together. Thanks Joe and Merry Christmas.



Ted Blaszak, President of the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association