Out on the Trail – John Wayne Trail Riders Overnight at South Cle Elum

by Mark Borleske

The John Wayne Pioneer Wagons & Riders made an overnight visit Saturday, May 24, 2009 to
the old South Cle Elum Rail Yard last Saturday. South Cle Elum is just one
of many overnight stops for the horse group as they travel across Washington
on their namesake, the John Wayne Trail. The riders have been taking part in
an annual ride across Washington State on the route of the former Milwaukee
Road since 1981. This year, the ride started in Easton on Saturday and will
end up in Tekoa, Washington, near the Idaho state line, on June 6th.

The John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders, and their namesake John Wayne
Pioneer Trail, are closely linked. In 1977, the Milwaukee Road went bankrupt
and in 1980, the railroad cut their service in the west. The group persuaded
the State of Washington to acquire the former railroad right of way as a
recreational trail. By 1981, the John Wayne riders were making organizing
their first ride, the initial one was from the Columbia River to Easton.
Since then, the ride has expanded and has been well-received by communities
and some ranchers and farmers who act as overnight hosts to the group and
provide camping space. The John Wayne Trail is now managed by Washington
State Parks as a part of Iron Horse State Park. Other portions of the trail
in Eastern Washington are managed by the Washington Department of Natural
Resources. Volunteer members of the John Wayne riders have spent countless
hours making improvements on the trail, to trailheads as well as locations
along the trail. In Spring of 2009, for example, volunteers have work
parties planting trees and cleaning up brush in the rail yard at South Cle
Elum. They also has a work party doing cleanup and making trail improvements
at the Thorpe trailhead.

On Saturday night, the riders were hosted by the Cascade Rail Foundation, a
volunteer organization which works with State Parks in managing the South
Cle Elum Rail Yard and the historic depot. Over one hundred people enjoyed a
steak cookout in front of the historic depot building.  On Sunday morning,
the riders were treated to a continental breakfast at the depot before
riding out.

As it was time to move on, the riders hit the trail, traveling east, with a
procession of horses and bicycles, moving at their own pace. Due to State
Parks recent closure of the tunnels on the John Wayne Trail, including two
in the Yakima River Canyon, Sunday’s ride was more like an excursion, out
and back instead of traveling on to the overnight destination at Thorpe.
Later in the afternoon, the riders broke camp and traveled with their
vehicles, horse trailers and horses and bicycles to Thorpe. In addition to
the overnight stays at Easton, South Cle Elum and Thorpe, the riders will
continue with stays at Kittitas, Renslow (I-90 Trailhead/Army West), and
Wanapum, on the Columbia River; all in Kittitas County. The ride continues
east of the Columbia River with visits to Othello, Warden, Lind, Ralston,
Revere, Ewan, Malden, Rosalia and ending in Tekoa.

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