The lack of a surface on the Tekoa Trestle makes it unusable. Decorating of the Tekoa railroad trestle during the holiday season has led to the revival of attempts to get a surface on the trestle and make it part of the John Wayne Trail. Approximately 30 Tekoa residents met Monday evening at the former Jaycee Club building in Tekoa to discuss the proposal. In an informal voting process, the group also voted to sponsor a group of riders who would ride the John Wayne Trail across the state and scout it out for Tekoa sponsorship of a cross-state challenge race in 2016. The aim would be to have this year’s riders, described as a Lewis & Clark expedition, arrive at Tekoa for recognition during the Slippery Gulch celebration in June. The new group calls itself the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association. Officers introduced at Monday’s session include Ted Blaszak, president; Chuck Brown-field, vice president; John Miller, treasurer, and Monte Morgan, secretary. Blaszak began the meeting by describing the impromptu decision to climb up on the trestle and decorate it with lights for the holiday season. The effort included placing planks over an open segment of the trestle to gain access to the ties and wooden walkways which are still on most of the trestle. Blaszak later reported the trestle group now owns 35 extension cords which were used to get power to the top of the trestle. The high trestle at Tekoa was part of the Milwaukee Railroad which was purchased by the state more than 30 years ago from trustees of the railroad company’s bankruptcy. The railroad right-of-way was converted into the John Wayne Trail which extends across the state to North Bend. The trail on the western side of the state is known as Iron Horse State Park. The trestle at Tekoa, which appears on letterheads and other promotion material, has been blocked off by steel barriers and ties were pulled from the surface at each end. Riders on the trail, including the John Wayne Wagon Drivers and Riders, leave the trail at Lone Pine Road to enter Tekoa from the west end. During the new group’s officer introductions, Brownfield explained he wanted to see the trestle surfaced so he could ride across it before he died. Morgan, who recalled crossing the trestle as a youngster in Tekoa, told the group Monday he has often thought of ways to get a surface on the 971-foot trestle for several years. Morgan reported in 2010 he and others worked with the state on a federal grant application for $1.2 million to resurface the trail. That led to $200,000 in pledged matching funds which were part of the application. Morgan noted only about $2,000 of the matching funds was pledged by local residents with most of the balance coming from the John Wayne riders group. After the application failed to land the grant funds, the pledges were “unpledged,” Morgan explained. Surfacing of the trestle was also brought up late in 2011 when Tekoa was the last of three planning meetings scheduled by the state parks department for development of the John Wayne Trail. At that meeting Bill Fraser, a state parks planner who is now retired, showed photos of a newly surfaced trestle on the Klickitat Trail near Lyle. That project was completed for $300,000, Fraser reported. The $1.2 million on the 2010 application was probably a lot more than the actual cost of putting a surface on the trestle. Morgan explained that figure was used at that time because that was the estimate. He said they believe the actual cost could be much lower. As treasurer of the new organization, Miller reported they do not have any funds. Morgan later explained that at present they are not seeking funds. Blaszak reported one of the aims for surfacing the trestle and for promoting a cross-state bicycle challenge is to create an attraction which brings people to Tekoa and injects more spending into the local economy. His spouse, Debra, reported she has been researching “sports tourism” on the internet. The relatively new trend features people who are willing to travel to events and pay large entry fees to participate in sports challenge events. Ted Blaszak listed a scenario in which residents from the urban parts of the state and elsewhere could be attracted to a challenge ride across the state at a high entry fee which would net the trestle and trail committee as much as $30,000. Blaszak also read a letter which will be sent to State Sen. Mark Schoesler, Ritzville, to seek his support on the project. In addition to the organized cross-state ride, Tekoa would provide guest housing for the entrants after the ride, meal certificates and a shuttle ride to Spokane for transportation on Amtrak back to the west side, Blaszak said. Larry Arnold reported on a Rotary project at Chelan which promoted a ride along the lake there. He said the first time they tried it, the ride attracted five riders. Proceeds from the last year he was in Chelan was enough to provide scholarships for eight students from Chelan and Manson High School. Entry fee on the Chelan ride at that time was $50. At the end of the session, Blaszak called for subcommittee volunteers to remain and discuss an approach for recruiting and organizing the Lewis & Clark Expedition ride prior to this year’s Slippery Gulch celebration. The committee opted to sponsor the trail ride this year as a means of finding “just what’s out there” before promoting a large scale challenge ride in 2016.
Eva Olsaker, senior manager with Government Finance Officers Association, reports on the county financial operations. Whitman County Administrative Director Gary Petrovich, left, and county Commissioner Michael Largent comment about the GFOA presentation Tuesday afternoon. By Sally Ousley Gazette Reporter County commissioners are pinning their hopes on advice from top financial advisors who might solve the county’s financial woes. After reporting several inefficiencies about how the county handles its finances during a Tuesday afternoon presentation, representatives of Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) also offered several recommendations to remedy the county’s ongoing financial problems. County commissioners in June of last year discussed getting a professional assessment because the state auditor could not issue an official opinion for the 2012 financial statements. That resulted in Standard & Poor’s dropping the county’s credit rating. The state auditor also could not issue a positive opinion about the 2013 financial assessment even though the auditor found improvements within the county’s operations. The nonprofit organization GFOA submitted a proposal to the county for advisory services and estimated costs for services could run more than $80,000, according to its preliminary proposal. After requesting companies’ qualifications, commissioners hired GFOA. Two representatives from GFOA told the Whitman County commissioners along with other elected officials and finance staff on Tuesday afternoon that the New World system must be fully utilized and that county staff must be trained to utilize that system. In a half-hour presentation GFOA senior manager Eva Olsaker first reported on what the county lacks in financial functions and then suggested ways the county could solve its financial problems. Olsaker said they interviewed county staff in the auditor, treasurer, assessor and IT offices and discovered that the financial computer system they are using is not being fully utilized. County financial staff is not adequately trained in finance and staff do not attend training and are not encouraged to attend training. They also found that when a staff member leaves, they don’t share any knowledge of any processes. Olsaker also said the county should have a key member of the auditor’s office who understands issues facing the county to assist in developing policies and establish procedures. Olsaker said the county lacks clear understanding of roles and responsibilities related to finance. She also said that too many processes are informal. She said they also discovered that there’s a lack of reliable financial reporting. Olsaker then went over several recommendations that included developing training, documenting financial roles and responsibilities and establishing and enforcing consistent financial policies for all county departments. She also said that the county’s New World computer system must be simplified because the system is too detailed now, and that the county must explore integration with New World and the county’s other systems. Olsaker said a project team must be established to lead the GFOA recommendations. She also said that she’s confident the New World system will work for the county. “I think they have put the finger on what Whitman County has struggled with for years,” said county Administrative Director Gary Petrovich after the presentation. Board chairman Dean Kinzer asked Petrovich what the next step is, and Petrovich replied that he wants to see GFOA’s final report and then proceed with recommendations. “We’ve ripped the sheet rock off the walls and it’s not pretty,” said Commissioner Michael Largent. Kinzer said he appreciated the GFOA report and then ended the session.