Banks-Vernonia State Trail
The Banks-Vernonia State Trail is an official Oregon State Park. In fact it’s the first “linear” state park in the system originally acquired in 1974 as part of Oregon’s Rails to Trails program. It can be argued that the trail is more popular then the rail ever was!
The original railway has a long but fairly typical history. United Railways was incorporated in 1906 with the plan to build an interuban electric railroad all the way from Portland to San Francisco via Hillsboro.
Construction began in 1907 to hook to an existing line between Forest Grove and Hillsboro. To compete with the Oregon-Electric line who were already working on a more direct line over the West Hills via Garden Home, the United Railway went from North Portland to the Tualatin Valley via Cornellius Pass. Unfortunately this route was expensive, needing several large trestles and a tunnel. The Cornelius Pass tunnel was finished in 1911, and plans were in place to go all the way to Tillamook on the Coast. Unfortunately plans were halted with the rail way reached Banks due to a lack of adequate harbors in Tillamook.
In 1919, The Eccles Interests of Utah, purchased large amounts of timber land around Vernonia, and incorporated the Portland, Astoria and Pacific Railroad. They planned to extend the railroad from Banks to Vernonia to take advantage of a proposed sawmill being built there. The new company planned to purchase the entire length of of the United Railway, which had been in turn purchased by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle railroad in 1909.
Economic hardships slowed construction and plans. It wasn’t until the Oregon-American Company built a sawmill outside of Vernonia in 1924 that it started to really take off. By this time the line extended past the Vernonia sawmill to a point several miles west of the town of Keasey. The railway barely survived the Great Depression, but was revived by World War II.
The Long Bell Company purchased the Oregon-American Companies’ Vernonia Sawmill in 1953 and used it to process timber from around Keasey and Camp Olsen. Unfortunately most of the timber was gone by 1957 and the mill closed. The rails were abandoned north of Vernonia.
Locals started the Vernonia South Park and Sunset Steam Railroad in 1961, but didn’t start operating until 1964 when they could repair two of the trestles still remaining. The SP&S actually ran the train, using the lines to service a few reaming customers until 1969 at which time the remaining customers were gone and the line fully abandoned.
The rails were pulled up in 1973, allow the Oregon Department of Transportation to purchase the right of way in 1974. They later transferred the line to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department in 1990 who used it as the first Rails to Trails Park. The opening of L.L. Stub Stewart Park in 2007 helped get the trail finished in 2011.
These days the 21 mile route serves walkers, hikers, bikers and horse riders. Several access points and parking service the trail. Bikes can be rented in Banks for those who need them. One of the trestles is still in use as part of the trail and provides an awesome view. Funny enough, another railroad now parallels part of the trail!
I haven’t had the chance to explore the entire length of the trail yet, but this link is pretty popular with bicyclists now and is a major point of tourism for Washington County.