Friday, July 15, 2011

Making Tracks To Where?

"Make Tracks To Washington's Side Of The Gorge" is the slogan used by the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce on a useful promotional flyer and map of Stevenson, WA.

A recent short vacation outing to the Columbia River Gorge brought me to Skamania County and it's seat at the scenic little town of Stevenson, hard by the well-used [24/7] triple tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which separate it from the river.

Across those tracks to the south, lies access to the riverfront and its attractions, including a Port of Skamania pier and cruise vessel [stern-paddle steamboats] landing, lodging places, a modest industrial complex, an eatery, and stretches of public parks and launching points for small boaters, fishing and the various wind-surfing arts for which the Gorge is internationally famous.

On the other side of the river, Oregon enjoys its own suite of scenic delights, tourist havens and small business and population centers, again, mostly separated from the river by multiple, main-line railroad tracks, and, again well-used, literally around-the-clock.

The Columbia Gorge provides a natural corridor for commerce, and it has been accepted and welcomed as such for a long time. The inhabitants of the area welcome the jobs and the essentials provided by both water & land-based traffic, despite any inconvenience of access or noise that in-transit commerce carries with it.

But, as a visitor, I was somewhat irritated by having to wait for trains to pass at regular intervals, plus being disturbed at night by startlingly loud train whistles close at hand - and, even across the river [sound travels easily over water]. BTW, earplugs didn't work very well for me.

My displeasure can be easily remedied by not visiting the Gorge again, at least for overnights; and the locals have long since a tolerance for such distractions. The point is, tolerance for frequent train traffic must either developed or tolerated, since in most places it is not all that common.

Out of curiosity, I measured the time it took for one, 120-car [+ 3 engines] train to pass at an estimated speed of 35 to 40 MPH. From crossing arms being lowered, then raised, it took 2 minutes. Of course, the warning whistles took a few minutes longer, approaching and leaving.

Much larger Bellingham shares some commonalities with little Stevenson, including significant tourism, business & residential areas near transportation corridors, and a waterfront that is largely separated from populated areas by railroad tracks. Except, in our case, BNSF has a single track that has a small fraction of the traffic routinely experienced along the Columbia Gorge.

Now, maybe our local Chamber of Commerce wants a slogan similar Skamania's? Something like "Make Tracks To Washington's Side Of Puget Sound & The San Juan Islands"? Think that would work for this area? I don't, but maybe I could be persuaded by cogent arguments that actually make good sense.

The problem is that our local & vocal C of C is mostly about slogans, and little else except the Ski to Sea annual event and begging grants from the same local governments & elected officials they love to criticize. OK, maybe that's unfair and is being changed for the better, but I don't yet see much evidence of it.

Maybe, our CoC could take a lesson from Skamania County and co-locate its office with a [non-profit] Economic Development Council, right down there close to the railroad tracks, where they can enjoy its full benefits -noise, inconvenience and all.
But, you know the Port of Bellingham is already there, and both the Whatcom County Courthouse & Bellingham City Hall aren't that far away either.

I was pleased to see these two new articles posted today on Crosscut, by Floyd MacKay & Bob Simmons, respectively, which update important developments on the controversial Coal Terminal proposal.