Civic group looks at Almanor trail conversion

M. Kate West
Chester Editor

    It was definitely a coming together of purpose when the Chester-Lake Almanor Chamber of Commerce conference room hosted a packed meeting March 22.
    The drawing card was discussion about the potential for conversion of the Almanor Railway (Collins Pine Company rail line) to a multipurpose recreational trail.
    Paul Hardy of the Feather River Land Trust and Elizabeth Norton of Lassen Land and Trails Trust hosted the meeting.
    Plumas County District 3 Supervisor Sherrie Thrall and John Sheehan of Plumas Corporation were also heavily involved in information sharing during the meeting. Thrall and Sheehan have been involved in dialogue with the Collins family and employee representatives from the onset.
    Other organizational representatives at the table included Sierra Pacific Industries District Manager Mike Mitzel and Dick Daniels of the Almanor Basin Watershed Advisory Committee. While Mitzel is also a member of ABWAC, his stated focus for the meeting was the two miles of SPI land that the rails run through east of Plumas County Road A-13.
    The remainder of the participants were local residents who had a myriad of reasons for attending.
    During introductions, some stated their purpose for attending was curiosity; and others said they were cyclists interested in the potential of a new trail.
    Some represented the snowmobile community and said they were specifically interested in a multiuse trail for winter and summer. Another said his interest lay in tourism and the local economy.
    Also mentioned was the “need for something on this side of town (Chester).” During that part of the dialogue it was noted an extensive trail exists on the West Shore of Lake Almanor and most of the lake access and developed recreation is owned and operated by private communities and resorts.

Project raises questions
    In her opening comments, Norton posed two primary questions that drove the meeting: “Who will take the lead in managing and maintaining the trail?” and “Is there enough momentum to take this forward?”
    She said for this type of collaborative envisioning she could see two types of work groups would be involved.
    “The project would need a core planning team of five to six people that could meet monthly and an extended project support team that would meet quarterly,” Norton said.
    She anticipated the support team would be a large group that might include representatives from local, state and federal agencies.
    There was also discussion about the need to bring the vision before the community.
    “There are decisions to be made about the potential trail, such as should it be motorized, non-motorized by season? These are questions to be decided by community input,” Norton said.

Looking forward
    Norton said the current vision is “quite broad.” In addition to the Collins Rail Line, it also involved taking the West Shore trail to Canyon Dam, around the East Shore to meet the Collins to travel onward and eastward to Westwood and further to the Bizz Johnson Trail.
    Continuing, she also spoke about the potential of connecting the BJT to the Modoc Line Rail to Trail corridor.
    She said LLTT acquired title to the Modoc Line Rail to Trail corridor from Union Pacific Railroad of Omaha, Neb., Sept. 5.
    According to the LLTT website, the “Modoc line runs 86 miles north and south from Wendel, Calif., to McArthur Siding, Calif., and traverses a large portion of hard-to-access Bureau of Land Management property as well as valuable wildlife and game habitat.”Ü
    An announcement was made during the meeting that very recently, an easement title had been granted to LLTT by the BLM for the lands associated with the Modoc Line Rail to Trail corridor.

Rail banking
    Opening the topic of rail banking, Norton said, “Rail banking is a federal law administered by the Surface Transportation Board. It allows agencies to acquire railroad rights-of-way from an operating railroad and ‘bank’ it until future rail use is applied for at the STB.”
    She also said the purchasing agency has all the property rights held by the railroad including easements for rail use. The line is not officially abandoned, and irreplaceable infrastructure is preserved.
    Talking about the local line, Paul Hardy provided background and said the Collins Pine Company filed to abandon the rail line in early February.
    He explained the process and said the STB was the federal agency in charge of oversight.
    He said once the Collins’ filing had taken place, any interested persons then had 30 days to write a letter of interest to the company.
    He said because of time constraints, FRLT stepped up and filed that letter of interest.
    “In the next step, Collins had 10 days to file and say whether or not they were willing to work with a group,” Hardy said.
    Hardy said all discussions and correspondence with Terry Collins about the trail conversion and rail banking has been very positive. Thrall and Sheehan, who were involved, concurred.
    Hardy said a letter from corporate headquarters objecting to the rail banking idea had been sent to the STB.
    “However, the Surface Transportation Board found value in pubic use and have allowed us 180 days to pursue this,” he added.
    He said the 180-day period began March 11.
Possible shareholders
    Throughout the conversation about the different pieces of the trail, the need for future relationships and funding were acknowledged. Primary among those mentioned were the Pacific, Gas & Electric Co. and the Stewardship Council.
    In discussion about the Stewardship Council, Supervisor Thrall said the East Shore of Lake Almanor falls under the purview of Plumas County District 2 Supervisor Robert Meacher, who currently sits on that nonprofit’s board of directors.
    “Highway 147 is the biggest problem,” she said about a linking trail system within the Basin.
    She also said PG&E has, as part of the Project 2105 Relicensing Settlement Agreement, agreed to set aside part of the land for the trail.
    “It’s going to be a big job with that piece of it,” Thrall added.
    Concurring, John Sheehan said, “The Holy Grail is the ability to market a looped trail around the lake.”

Almanor Railroad history
    The current 13-mile rail line runs from the Collins Pine Mill in west Chester, along the causeway and north shore of Lake Almanor to a connection with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway at the Clear Creek Junction.
    The Collins Company purchased the line from the Grande Ronde Lumber Company and incorporated the rail line as the Almanor Railroad Sept. 15, 1941.
    The rail line was originally built in 1931 by the Red River Lumber Company, which operated a private electric logging railroad from Westwood to Chester.
    The first route was approximately three miles longer than that used by the Collins Company over the years.
Next steps
    A final question raised was about who owns the reversionary rights: the corridor to the rail line?
    Hardy said he would take the lead in seeking answers relating to ownership of the entire rail corridor, whether or not the rail banking option still exists and more about the STB process options.
    By the close of the meeting no decisions had been made as to which agency would take the lead in the endeavor and no work groups were established.
    The next meeting date will be announced.

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