Trail behind Public Works and Philomath Elementary
Locals, mostly youngsters, have followed a “shortcut” trail that runs from behind the Public Works building on Willow Lane over to South 17th Street. It’s possible that a paved trail could be built there if a new ODOT program grant materializes and the school district gives its approval. (Photo by Canda Fuqua/Philomath News)

A new Oregon Department of Transportation program could ultimately benefit Philomath when it comes to expanding the community’s off-road multiuse trail system — possibly an extension of Hunsaker Bike Path or construction of a connector trail from Willow Lane to South 17th.

The Oregon Community Paths Program, established this past summer, is intended to help communities create and maintain connections through multiuse paths. The ODOT program will rely on revenue from the state Multimodal Active Transportation and federal Transportation Alternatives Program funds.

City Manager Chris Workman told the Park Advisory Board at its Nov. 12 meeting that he had submitted a letter of interest and received confirmation that Philomath is qualified to apply.

“It’s focused on paths that are outside of public right-of-ways, so this isn’t for a bike-ped path that goes along Chapel Drive or along the highway,” Workman said. “This would be for a path that’s connecting neighborhoods maybe to schools, but it doesn’t necessarily follow an automobile road.”

For example, the program could provide funds to connect a new housing development with local schools. Safe Routes to School money would be ineligible for such projects because there is a requirement that those paths are located in the right-of-way.

Workman said he took a look at the Park Master Plan and its wish list for future trails and found two that do not follow roadways and fit the criteria of the grant.

The smaller of the two would be a paved path that runs from behind the Public Works building on Willow Lane to South 17th Street.

The Philomath School District owns the lot where the path is located — it’s situated just south of the elementary school’s track. Workman said he talked briefly to the school about the field, which had been used years ago for outdoor classroom purposes.

“Really, this lot’s not being used for anything,” Workman said. “So we need to work with the school district. … At this point, we’re just pushing it out there.”

The larger project would be an extension of Hunsaker Bike Path to continue past Applegate Street to Chapel Drive and then break off toward the west fork of Newton Creek to Philomath City Park.

Workman said the proposal would ask the property owners to contribute the program’s required 10% match and donate land along a riparian area that could never be developed anyway (an exception being trails).

“The match would be provided by the owner of that property, so we’d look to them to provide either an easement for the trail to sit on or we’d look for them to do a donation of land along the riparian corridor,” Workman said.

The section of land has been proposed in the past for a large housing development but voters rejected its annexation into the city on three occasions. A smaller project — Newton Creek Estates — is currently in development. But if houses do go up on the large sections of the property someday, the developer would be required to build the trail.

However, Workman said there is benefit to both parties if this grant materializes.

“It spurs that bike-ped path; it puts it out now rather than maybe waiting another 15 or 20 years when the rest of that development comes in,” he said. “We get the improvements now; the developer is actually helped because a large part of what would’ve been their expense is going to get paid by the state grant but it comes in now rather than later. And the city’s really not on the hook for any of the expense other than just what would be the ongoing maintenance of that path.”

The Park Advisory Board unanimously approved a motion for Workman to pursue the program’s grants. He plans to take the ideas in a more formal manner to the City Council in December.