ONTARIO – A plan by the city of Ontario to create a greenbelt along the Snake River now has new life, according to city officials.

The plan calls for a three-mile greenbelt that begins near the city’s water treatment plant and runs north along the river to the Oregon State Recreation Site.

The greenbelt – dubbed the Tator Tot Trail – will consist of an asphalt surface, benches, street lights and trees for pedestrians and bicycles.

“This is a big project,” said Adam Brown, Ontario city manager.

The greenbelt plan has been on the long-term city planning board for years, but recently Mayor Riley Hill said he decided to see if it was still a relevant idea. So, Brown said city leaders dusted off old plans for the project and “started working on this more than a year ago.”

The project will cost around $5 million and Brown said the city can’t pay for it. That is why, he said, city officials hope to use state and federal grants to make the trail a reality.

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One major hurdle – ownership of the land where the trail will be – is partly solved, said Brown. The city is in talks with both Walmart and the Kraft Heinz Company to acquire riverfront property for the trail.

“We found Heinz and Walmart to be pretty receptive to the idea. And there is a federal program that will help us with design if we have possession of the land. That’s why we’ve been working on the land for the past five months. Once we have the land we can go to the feds and say, help us design it,” said Brown.

Brown said the city would trade ownership of an access road that runs between the Kraft Heinz facilities for waterfront access. For the Walmart land, the city would condemn the property and acquire it through a resolution. Brown said Walmart is open to the idea.

The final stakeholder, said Brown, is the state. Brown said state officials have already said they are interested in helping.

“The state has basically said, get the property,” he said.

Hill said he “has made the case” for the greenbelt in Salem with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

“I have been going over and making contacts, just going in and telling them what we want do,” said Hill.

Brown said a greenbelt would improve Ontario.

“It will be a huge asset for our community,” he said.

John Breidenbach, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Snake River has always been “underutilized” in terms of recreation.

“There are opportunities for that river to be used,” he said.

A greenbelt will attract people to Ontario, he said.

“If we can get a greenbelt-type trail it will add to the livability and the tourist attraction here,” he said.

Brown said he believes the idea is “pretty exciting.”

“So, it is just a matter of we need someone to go to bat for us because we don’t have that money. But it will be a game-changer the city needs to draw in people,” said Brown.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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