The John Wayne Pioneer Trail follows the historic route of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, also known as the Milwaukee Road. Founded in the midwest in 1947, the Milwaukee Road gradually expanded west, successfully conquering significant engineering challenges and extending to over 10,000 miles of line to reach western Washington. The Milwaukee Road corridor was the best engineered rail line serving the Pacific Northwest.
Malden's boom days as the Columbian Headquarters of the Milwaukee Road, 1911. At one time, Malden had a depot, multiple hotels, saloons, stores, and the largest locomotive turntable in the world. Today a post office is almost all that remains of Malden's services.
In 1914 the railroad adopted electrification as an alternative to steam power for sections of the route. The system used a 3,000 volt DC line overhead. The first district was electrified in 1915 in Montana, and two years later, a separate district was electrified between Othello and Tacoma in Washington. Remnants of this historic period of electrification can still be seen along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.
The company made the decison in 1973 to de-electrify the units that were electrified, and switch to diesel in an effort to save costs. However, just as the electrification infrastructure was scrapped, the 1973 oil crisis took effect. Strained by financial burdens and growing competition, the railroad went through several restructuring processes before final bankruptcy in 1977. For more history of the Milwaukee Road in Washington, see Cascade Rail Foundation.
After the last train ran on the line in 1980, the state of Washington bought the former Milwaukee Road corridor for $3,000,000 via a quickclaim deed. Controversy soon sprang up over how to use the State's new property. Horseman and outdoor enthusiast Chic Hollenbeck envisioned its use as a trail, allowing people to walk, bicycle, ride a horse, or drive a team across the state. Hollebeck lobbied hard to make this a reality. The trail was named the John Wayne Pioneer Trail for Hollenbeck's admiration for the cowboy actor. Hollenbeck was also the founder of the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders, a group organizing an annual ride across Washington on the trail since 1981.
West of the Columbia River, 110 miles of the trail were developed into Iron Horse State Park in 2006, but east of the Columbia River the trail remained largely undeveloped.
In the 2015, three legislators from the 9th District crafted a State budget proviso attempting to close 135 miles of the eastern JWPT and give this property to adjacent land owners.
This proviso was crafted behind closed doors, without pubic input or comment (See media coverage). Fortunately, an error in the wording of the proviso temporarily nullified it. However, when this was near loss of the eastern section of trail was discovered, trail supporters went to the Washington State Capitol to lobby legislators to "Save the Trail". Numerous public meetings were held to seek public input on the future of the trail. State Parks formed an Advisory Committee representing interested parties to work on JWPT planning. Trail supporters significantly outnumbered opponents.
The Friends of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail Organization was formed in January 2016 as a direct result of the public's surge of interest and the effort to save the trail.
The 2017 Washington State Legislative Session is critical to obtain needed funding for the trail. Learn more about the State Parks' requests in the 2017-2019 budget for JWPT projects.