Ontario eyes taming thickets for new river trail

The portion of the Snake River that runs through Walmart’s property is the site of a former homeless encampment and is thicketed and unkempt. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel).

ONTARIO – Ontario residents are one step closer to enjoying a riverside promenade after the city acquired the quarter-mile portion of the Snake River’s banks that run through Walmart property. 

City Manager Adam Brown has a vision for the tangled thickets strewn with trash – a tidy trail following the river where city residents can bike, walk, run or skate. The Tater Tots Trail, or Snake River Trail, will be 3.2 miles long and is an element of the city’s strategic plan to enhance its desirability and lifestyle. 

Before anything can be built, however, the city must have the land. The planned route along the Snake River had four owners at the beginning of the project: the city of Ontario, the state of Oregon, Kraft Heinz, and Walmart.

On Jan. 7, the Ontario City Council approved a deal with Walmart for an easement for the trail for $10,000. 

“This was a major acquisition, because Walmart’s huge,” said Brown. “You can’t (just) work with the people in Ontario, you have to go through their corporate offices in Bentonville, Arkansas.”

Acquiring the easement took about a year.

Walmart requested that Ontario do a “friendly condemnation,” in which the city would use its power of eminent domain. Ontario had to produce a “resolution stating that the city wants to use the land for public purpose,” explained Brown. Then, the city made the $10,000 offer to compensate Walmart for the land, which was accepted. 

“Their intent was really to do something good and work with the city,” said Brown. “It really wasn’t about the money for them, I don’t think.”

“Late last year, the city reached out to us saying they had valued the land at $10,000,” said Anne Hatfield, senior director of global communications at Walmart. “We thought it was a great way to support the community with the development of the trail.”

 The next step for the Snake River Trail is for Ontario to work out deals with the state and with Kraft Heinz. 

“The Governor’s Regional Solutions team is helping the city of Ontario to make connections with various state agencies who own property along the proposed trail because easements will be required,” said Liz Merah, press secretary for Gov. Kate Brown. “Our staff will also work with the city to help find funding options in order to see the project through to completion.”

With Kraft Heinz, Ontario hopes to complete a swap, in which the company will be allowed control of a formerly public road in exchange for granting the city the land for the trail. 

Once all the property is in hand, the project will move to design. Brown said he hopes the city can use a technical assistance grant from the National Park Service to have the trail designed. 

Ontario has budgeted $25,000 for work on the trail this year, and Brown expects to eventually have to raise up to $5 million from foundations and federal and state sources to complete the project next year.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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