Thursday, October 5, 2017

Ride the Weiser River Trail in memory of Shirley Atteberry, plus fall scenic drives

Shirley Atteberry, Queen of the Weiser River Trail, died earlier this week. It's time to ride the trail in honor of Shirley.
(Photo courtesy Craig Kjar) 
Shirley, middle front, with friends at the Council terminal for the WRT (Courtesy Irene Saphra) 
Hi all,

In the fall of 1997, I remember being summoned to a meeting at the old Red Lion Riverside by Yvonne Farrell, former director of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. A railroad line from New Meadows to Weiser was being abandoned by Union Pacific Railroad and gifted to a new nonprofit called Friends of the Weiser River Trail. When Yvonne calls you in person, you go.

Yvonne invited lots of trail people to the meeting. She wanted to know how each and every one of us were going to step up and help the Friends group get rolling with turning the old railroad bed into a user-friendly recreation trail. I found myself fidgeting in my chair.

I was vice president of the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association (SWIMBA) at the time, and also the president of the Idaho Trails Council. My first child was going to be born in 2 months. I felt like my plate was more than full.

But then Shirley Atteberry, a retired professional surveyor from Cambridge, stood up and told everyone how excited they were about receiving the gift of the old railroad line.  But she didn't know anything about running a trails organization or managing an 84-mile-long trail. The railroad ties were still sitting there in the rail bed, and the trail surface would be rough as hell after they were removed.

Shirley came across as a genuine sweet woman with a warm voice who had a lot of empathy for the rural corner of Idaho where she lived. She saw the trail as a potential godsend for Adams and Washington counties. All of the towns along the course of the trail were struggling -- and still are to some extent -- New Meadows, Council, Cambridge, Midvale and Weiser. "If we can turn that line into a recreation trail, I can see how it would provide an economic benefit to retail stores, gas stations and hotels, and there would be potential for new business to be created," she said.

Everyone in the room could envision that potential reality if sufficient numbers of people flocked to the trail. We went around the room and everyone there offered to do something to help Shirley get started. But as things turned out, she wouldn't need much help from us do-gooders. She became so committed to the cause, spent countless hours building the organization, and by god, they went to work. And they got 'er done.

Friends of Weiser River Trail had to redeck all of the trestles that cross the river so they're smooth and suitable for biking. 
The Weiser River Trail has been a great trail to enjoy via hiking, biking, running or horseback riding once they opened it up for the public to use in 1997. They almost should call it "Shirley's Trail." Certainly she's the Queen of the WRT. She built Friends of the Weiser River Trail into an organization that has 650 members today. It's a successful nonprofit that's financially sound and has a lot of things going for it because of Shirley's commitment to the cause. She also had a number of other really hard-working locals were with her nearly every step of the way, including her sister, Patti Heldt, Dick Pugh and many others.

Shirley Atteberry died this week. That's why I'm writing about her and the Weiser River Trail. There's a supported two-day bike ride going on this Saturday on the Weiser River Trail, but registration is closed, and there is no day-of registration available. But even so, I encourage all of you to consider visiting the Weiser River Trail this fall or next spring to enjoy the ride. And think of Shirley. Get some friends together and do your own van-supported ride. Stay overnight in Cambridge, and go to Mundo Hot Springs for a soothing soak after the long day. They have some lodging, too!

I like doing the ride in two parts of roughly 40 miles each, starting from the north end, just west of New Meadows, and pedaling downhill. Hard-cores could do the whole thing in a day. Casual riders can do much shorter sections as they wish. The downhill grade is not steep enough to coast except in the section between the Evergreen sawmill and Fruitvale area ... that's one of my favorite parts of the trail. But what's surprising is you'll experience some remote canyons away from U.S. 95 where you're cruising along the river in a quiet and remote place, where the only sounds you'll hear might be chukars in the sagebrush, geese on the river, the wind in the cottonwoods, or just the sound of flowing water in the river.     

Below, see a story I wrote about Shirley in a 2002 edition of the Rails to Trails magazine. It's titled "Tenacious Trail Builder." Sorry, it's not online. Also, for a more detailed narrative about the Weiser River Trail, see my story that appeared in VisitIdaho last year.

If you might be interested in donating funds to WRT on behalf of Shirley, please contact the Idaho Community Foundation or Friends of Weiser River Trail.

One other tip this week, I was in McCall last weekend, and I noticed that the colors are changing everywhere. And then a friend posted a pic of a kaleidoscope of colors framing the Rainbow Bridge, north of New Meadows. It's a perfect weekend for a scenic drive!

Here's my blogpost from last fall, recommending five scenic drives in SW Idaho -- the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, Sawtooth Scenic Byway, Payette River Scenic Byway, Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, and the road to Silver City out and back. The colors are popping best in the higher elevations right now.

Rails to Trails Magazine – Fall 2002 Issue

Shirley Atteberry: Tenacious Trail Builder


Sitting by a fireplace in the couple's lovely, but unfinished, 4,000-square-foot log home in Cambridge, Idaho, Shirley Atteberry's husband, John, says Shirley "just lives for the trail.

"We’ve been married 39 years, and I've never known her to be this passionate about something.”

"This house is not finished because of the trail,” she admits with a grin. But the image of a rail-trail winding along the Weiser River has captured her imagination, her energy and her dedication since the mid-1990s when she heard that Union Pacific Railroad was going to shut down an Idaho railroad line between New Meadows and Weiser.

What a wonderful trail it would be. Launching from an alpine forest near New Meadows, elevation 5,500 feet, the 84-mile corridor snakes across a series (rock-terraced and grassy canyons, wind through farm country and passes wild sections of the Weiser River before ending about a half mile above sea level in Weiser. The entire trip follows a moderate downhill grade, making an enticing destination for bicycle gravity-riders.

“It was real easy for me to see what could happen,” says Shirley Atteberry, A former land surveyor who bubbles with enthusiasm. "The railroad line ran through four economically depressed towns and two counties. If we could turn that line into a recreational trail, it would provide an economic benefit to retail stores, gas stations and hotels, and there would be potential for new businesses to be created.”

For 30 years, Atteberry and her family lived in Roseville, Calif, near a nifty five-mile pathway along two creeks. She used it for jogging with her collie, Lady, and outings with her two children. That pathway has often come to mind during the years Atteberry has worked to create another fine trail, almost from scratch, near her rural Idaho mountain community.

When Atteberry and a group of civic-minded citizens decided to pursue a recreational trail on the rail line, they quickly realized it would be a challenge. They hoped that Washington and Adams counties would work with Union Pacific Railroad to acquire the right-of-way and develop a trail.

But in this sleepy and politically conservative corner of southwest Idaho, the notion of convening a rail line into a trail was a tough sell. Opponents presented a petition against the trail to the county commissioners. So in July 1996, advocates formed Friends of Weiser River Trail, a nonprofit membership organization. Atteberry joined the board, and currently is Friends’ treasurer.

First, Friends had to negotiate with Union Pacific to acquire the right-of-way for the trail. Through a federal program, the organization could railbank the corridor, preserving it for future railroad use and allowing it to serve in the interim as a trail. Friends forged a complex agreement with Union Pacific whereby the railroad would donate the corridor and Friends would develop and manage the right-of-way as a trail.

Only a few nonprofit groups in the United States have succeeded in convening and operating a rail-trail. Though the railbanking program was structured to allow trail organizations to negotiate with the railroads, the process most often handled by states and municipalities u 1' t: budgets and fleets of attorneys. But Atteberry never wavered in her determination to help build the trail.

Early in negotiations with Union Pacific, she turned to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (R'I'C) for information and support. RTC staff toured the proposed trail corridor and offered suggestions for how to develop it. On a pro bono basis, a former RTC staff member, attorney Charles Montange, took on the railbanking legal work for Friends. Montange told Friends they might convince the railroad to donate the corridor if they could demonstrate strong community for the rail-trail. Atteberry developed a fact sheet detailing the community benefits the Weiser River Trail would bring.
Armed with her fact sheet and considerable charm, she went to work. She got an immediate endorsement from the Cambridge City Council and chamber of commerce. Since Cambridge is a gateway to Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, these folks understood the value of tourism. But in the farming town of Weiser, Atteberry had to convince more than 50 percent of the 147 chamber of commerce member businesses to support the trail.

“I contacted every single business owner to gauge whether they would support, oppose or stay neutral," she says. “Finally, I got a majority of them to support it.” Atteberry assembled all the letters of support, and in June 1997 Union Pacific donated the rail corridor to Friends. Local trail opponents went to court to challenge the legality of the railbanking procedure and corridor ownership. Angry owners of land along the trail blocked the path with large boulders and fences. Friends won two lawsuits, but some landowners continue to trespass. Often Friends calls on Atteberry to deal with these problems. “Nobody wants to have to tell a landowner that he's put an illegal gate across our trail and it's got to go," says Dick Pugh, board secretary of Friends. "But Shirley is always willing to take that on. She's really tough."

The first 12 miles of the Weiser River Trail officially opened to the public on June 6, 1998. Today, more than 50 miles of the trail are open. When all 84 miles are complete, the Weiser River will be the longest rail-trail in Idaho

Atteberry’s dreams of creating an income-generating destination are coming true. Her eyes light up when she talks about recent trail events, including a three-day wagon-train trip and the third annual Idaho Endurance Ride. She'd like to spend more time planning events to draw visitors to this spectacular trail and the area, but her slate is full juggling trail management and development responsibilities. Atteberry commonly spends more than 50 hours a week on trail administration issues. The Friends board hopes to raise enough money to hire a full-time executive director.

Meanwhile, Atteberry goes full steam ahead. “It can be hard," she admits "But people will really enjoy the trail. And I can't quit when we've got 450 members out there who are counting on us to get it done.”

Idaho freelance writer Stephen Stuebner has ridden frequently on the Weiser River Trail since it first opened. He looks forward to riding all 84 miles of the trail in the near future."

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