Riding The John Wayne Trail

By Tammara Green

John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders camped out near Huntzinger Boat Launch last Tuesday before continuing on over to Smyrna and Warden via the trail that continues up Crab Creek. The group of some 122 participants made arrangements to take the bus over to the other side to Beverly the following morning or to drive their own vehicles. There they would unload again. Some would ride or bike the trail while others would drive a vehicle all the way to Warden and help set up camp.

At a meeting Tuesday near the Wanapum Dam, it was noted that the Facebook page for the “Wayners” as they are sometimes called has grown by 100 new members. Travelers joining the annual ride came from as far as Canada, Arizona, California and Texas. There were 122 people altogether riding with the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders group this year.

“It’s the best ride. It’s so much fun,” said Summer Moffat of Monterey, California. “It’s not a ride for wimps. We ride 226 miles. It makes a man out of a woman.”

President of the riders, Judyann Combs, who is 79 has been riding the trail for 35 years. The trail ride is in its 37th year. She was trail boss starting back in 1984 and continued her position for 18 years.

“I have been doing it almost half my life,” Combs said. “I remember riding across the Wanapum Dam. We were carrying four U.S. flags, four club flags and four state flags all flying in the early morning sunlight. We rode across it until 9/11. ”

Darlene Brady, Wayner’s member and Facebook admin liaison, was along for the ride taking a lot of pictures and posting on Facebook commented on Combs.

“It’s like a historian is with us,” Brady said. “They history and what she does at the meetings is great.”

The John Wayne trail is not without its controversy this year. The state has established that it shall be renamed the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail. The decision was made in part to give a more specific depiction of the trail’s location. Combs, however, felt the John Wayne name projected a persona of patriotism and family values. According to Combs, the name will not go away easily as people may think.

“Clinton named this a historical trail,” Combs said. “The name is on maps across the U.S.. There is a vision for a trans-continental trail in the future. People are still going to call it the John Wayne trail.”

Indeed the John Wayne trail is an important link to many of the trail systems in Washington. Combs mentioned there are 9,600 trails that come off of the John Wayne Trail. The John Wayne Trail starts at Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend. It is 260 miles long and goes as far as Tekoa.

While Wayners camp on the Kittitas side of the trail, waiting to drive around to the other side of the river, they dream of crossing the Beverly train trestle one day. They are in the process of applying for grants to have it restored. Last year at their December meeting, it was announced that the Beverly trestle was officially named a historical site. The Renslow trestle in Kittitas County, which is part of the trail is stated to be restored next year. The main idea is to create an enjoyable and safe experience for horses and bicyclists and hikers of the trail.

“Rusty” DeSherlia, a former adjunct professor from Pacific Lutheran University was along for this year’s ride.

“I love the people,” DeSherlia said. “I come for the people.”

One year, DeSherlia walked 425 miles from Tekoa to Olympia. She started taking the annual pilgrimage on the John Wayne Trail 29 years ago. She missed three years, so she has been doing it for 26 of those years.

This year, boyscouts from the troop in Wenatchee joined the group one weekend of the ride. They were on bicycles. Another group of disadvantaged kids rode along with the Wayner’s for part of the trip on bicycles they made themselves.

“People gave them a horses 101 class to teach the kids how to touch them and pet them.” Combs said.

Vice President of the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders, Tom Short stated that the group had ridden 63 miles from Easton to Wanapum.

‘We will ride 211 miles total from Tekoa to Easton.” Short said.

As Short sees it, restoring and opening the Beverly trestle would be a great thing. It would make it easier for bicyclists and horsemen to get across the river.

“If that trestle was open from a recreation point of view, bike riders could go across the trail,” Short said. “The tread from Kittitas to Beverly is the best tread. Horses could use it too. It would cost a few million dollars to replace the deck. The bridge sits there. It’s very good. It just needs a deck and a cage. It’s so strong you could drive army tankers on it.”

The reason the group does the annual ride, Short explained, is to promote the trail and to maintain it. The goal is to get more people interested in the trail and to get more people traveling on it as a form of healthy outdoor activity. Future improvements to the trail would benefit bicyclists and hikers.

Just recently, the Washington legislature earmarked $1,000,000 to repair the Renslo w trestle in Kittitas. This will make it possible for bicyclists who want to ride over it to travel into Kittitas and then into Beverly. Short admits he never thought the renovation of the trestle would happen in his lifetime.

Combs loves the ride, and as President of the organization, she is more than qualified to lead the Wayners on the trail. She bought her first horse at 40 years of age even though she always loved horses. She was a saddle fitter and had a boarding stable in Duvall. She also had the first Australian tack store in the U.S. She was also King County Executive Horse Coordinator and Regional Director for the Snoqualmie area. This year she will be organizing the staging for the equestrians for Seafair this year.

“You meet people from all walks of life,” Combs said. “You have Tekoa or Bust on your forehead. We are living the reveries of yester-year. They didn’t have rubber tires.”

People from all over joined the Wayners on the ride. Corita Dubose, a family practitioner from Houston, Texas came up for the annual ride after hearing about it from her friend, Jeanne Hendricks.

“It is a lot of fun to be able to see this countryside,” Dubose said.

Hendricks remarked that the simple fact the trail even exists is amazing in itself. The ladies rode at the back of the ride and picked up whatever belongings were dropped by others. They both found it very peaceful.

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