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Joseph Branch Trail Consortium

2021 Cycle Oregon Fund Community Grant Recipient

Imagine a 63-mile trail along the Wallowa-Union Railroad corridor connecting the rural communities of Elgin, Minam, Wallowa, Lostine, Enterprise and Joseph. Imagine the trail is open to the public for non-motorized use with scenic rest stops to view river canyons, prairies, and the picturesque Wallowa and Grande Ronde valleys. Imagine the trail as a safe route for residents in these communities to recreate and travel car free while also promoting economic development in the region. Now consider that it’s much more than just imagination, the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium is well on the way to making this trail a reality.

The Joseph Branch Trail Consortium, (JBTC), is a 2021 Cycle Oregon Fund Community Grant recipient, with prior grants awarded in 2014, 2015 & 2016. We are, of course, thrilled for the communities who will benefit on a daily basis from this tremendous resource but we also cannot help but daydream about a Cycle Oregon ride here in the future. At present, the only route connecting these two towns is HWY 82 so the trail will no doubt bring a wave of cycling tourism to Union and Wallowa counties. Let’s help make this trail a reality!

We couldn’t be more excited to see such a bold project begin to get rolling and we’re not the only ones. News of the grant was recently reported in a feature story in the Wallowa County Chieftain.

“We are seeing some impressive momentum building for this exciting project, and this new grant from Cycle Oregon is definitely part of that,” Gregg Kleiner, the project coordinator for the consortium, said in the Feb. 8 release. “The trail will be open to bicycles, and the trailhead will feature a bike maintenance station and an e-bike charging station, so it’s a perfect fit for Cycle Oregon, and we’re very grateful for their enthusiastic support.”

Wallowa County Chieftain / February 15, 2022
JBTC Board of Directors (pictured, left to right) Howard Butts, Jennifer Wing, Ralph Swinehart, Gregg Kleiner, Natalie Millar, Charlie Gillis, and Jacob Losby (not pictured: Shannon Donovan, Emily Sheahan, and John Pollard, and Board Advisors Sara Miller, Larz Stewart, and Kyle Bratcher).

We spoke with the team at JBTC earlier this month to learn more:

What is the Joseph Branch trail?

The route follows the right-of-way alongside the rail corridor, which is an ORS 190 Intergovernmental Agreement between Union and Wallowa counties and managed by the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority, all the way from the Elgin Train Depot to the end of the line in Joseph. This map illustrates the route in planning with an actual map to be produced later when geolocation information is gathered in the field.

The Joseph Branch, now known as Wallowa Union Railroad, is 63 miles long and connects Elgin in Union County with Joseph in Wallowa County. The railroad uses the pathways of the Grande Ronde and Wallowa Rivers, the waters of which flow into the Snake, then into the Columbia, and eventually the Pacific Ocean.

Who will use it?

The Joseph Branch Trail-with-Rail is designed for use by people of all ages and abilities. While Northeast Oregon is rich in natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities, many of the trails can be too rugged for some people to access. The goal is for anyone to be able to lead a healthy lifestyle and provide a pathway for people to safely recreate, or commute away from busy highways and county roads. 

Who is connecting the communities to the trail?

The JBTC, Eastern Oregon University, Oregon State Parks, and the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District conducted three public opinion and surveys between 2014 -2016 with all three showing significant community and voter support for the trail plan. In February 2021 the JBTC board of directors hired a project coordinator, Gregg Kleiner, to put a specific focus on community outreach and communication. 

Gregg grew up in small, rural Oregon towns and went on to become the author of a novel and a children’s book while also working as a wildlife biologist, journalist, and visiting professor. His deep sense of community comes from a lifetime of travel and time in the outdoors. Gregg has also brought considerable fundraising skills to the JBTC, assisting with grants received from Oregon State Parks, ODOT, Schwemm Family Foundation, Roadhouse Foundation, and Cycle Oregon.

His enthusiasm for the project is as big and bold as his love of the community, “I look forward to the day when I can ride my bike or hike from here in Joseph all the way down to Elgin, and Cycle Oregon’s wonderful support is definitely helping speed that day to becoming a reality!”

How will the Cycle Oregon grant be used?

The Cycle Oregon grant will be used in coordination with grants from the Schwemm Family Foundation and the Roundhouse Foundation to fund construction of a covered gazebo, landscaping, and project management at the trailhead and pocket park in downtown Elgin near the train depot. 

We’re very excited to construct these elements and the first short section of the actual trail out of town. This trailhead and pocket park will be a community gathering place that will feature an EV charging station and interpretive signage about the area’s Indigenous People and its more recent history. This is the “first stake in the ground” which is very exciting. We’re also looking forward to attracting new members from throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond to support this project as we continue to build momentum! 

Courtesy of Joseph Branch Trail Consortium

Learn more about the project, including opportunities to support or volunteer by clicking here.

Instagram: @josephbranchtrail

Facebook: @josephbranchtrail

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1 Comment

  1. I am very excited to hear about this! I moved to Oregon from the Northeast states where there are hundreds of miles of rails-to-trails. Oregon has very few, especially Central and Eastern Oregon. A 63-mile trail through the Wallowa area will be a treasure of Oregon and the PNW.