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Guided hike, historical rail line tour planned

The Olene snowplow off Highway 140 east of Klamath Falls is the location for an upcoming celebration. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Antique snowplow an attraction of former logging transportation hub

A tour of the Olene snowplow and hikes along a section of historical trail will be hosted by Oregon State Parks Saturday, Aug. 21.

Events will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. from the historical snowplow located in Olene just off Highway 140 about eight miles east of Klamath Falls. Participants will tour the plow, which for many years was used to clear snow along a rail line that carried logs from Bly to lumber mills in Klamath Falls. Tours will be led by members of the Klamath Rails to Trails Group.

Two hikes will also be offered by the Klamath County Museum. A short one-mile out-and-back will focus on the history of the former Oregon, California & Eastern Railroad while a longer 5-mile hike will end at Swedes Cut. The YMCA of Klamath Falls will provide shuttle rides back to Olene.

The tour and hikes are free. Klamath Rails to Trails will provide free snacks and water. Participants are asked to park at the Olene snowplow pullout or across the street. For more information, call Collier Memorial State Park at 541-783-2471, ext. 24.

The OC&E Woods Line State Trail, which runs from Klamath Falls to Bly and the Sycan Marsh, is managed through Collier Memorial State Park. Oregon’s longest linear park, the 100-mile trail is built on the old railbed of the OC&E Railroad.

Historically, Robert E. Strahorn, envisioned a railroad, the Klamath Falls Municipal Railway, that would connect Klamath Falls with Lakeview, Burns and Bend. Construction began July 6, 1917. The rail line reached the community of Sprague River in 1923 and in 1929 reached Bly, which eventually became the ending point.

“The new railroad brought growth to the area,” notes the state park’s OC&E Woods Line brochure. “Logging camps with spur railroads sprang up almost overnight and, by 1919, four lumber mills were located on the main line. The engines transported carloads of enormous pine logs to the mills, often carrying as much as one million board feet a day. In 1990, OC&E’s incarnation as a logging railroad ended. Weyerhaeuser Company railbanked the right-of-way to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and the transition from a railroad to a trail began.”

Converting the OC&E Woods Line to a path for bicyclists, walkers and equestrians was opposed by some residents along the path, especially in the rural areas, but the trail was eventually designated in 1992.

The 7.6-mile urban section from Klamath Falls, beginning at Washburn Way, to Olene is paved. The section crosses the A Canal Bike Path and an 1898 steel railroad bridge, passes by Wiard Park and travels along ranchlands to Olene. It remains the most heavily used section.

From Olene to Lakeview, including the Woods Line Spur to the Sycan Marsh, the trail is unpaved and recommended for mountain bikes and, in the winter, cross-country skiing. There have been proposals to pave the section. A bridge that previously crossed over Highway 140 was removed. Although Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles indicated it would build a higher replacement bridge, none has been built, and none is currently planned.

Among highlights along the trail beyond Olene is Swedes Cut, the destination for hikers at the upcoming tour. At Swedes Cut, a portion of the track was cut through high ground to maintain a gentle grade. The section is named for the Swedish workers who used star drills and black powder to move more than 10 feet of boulders and hardpan soil.

The section from Sprague River to Bly includes a scenic section along the Sprague River while passing along timber and ranchlands. Trail users sometimes encounter livestock. Sections along the section have loose rock, making travel challenging.

The relatively little-traveled Woods Line Section, which begins near Beatty, goes north 27 miles to the Sycan Marsh and is also known as difficult. A major attraction, the 400-foot-long, 50-foot-high Merritt Creek Trestle, burned during the 2021 Bootleg Fire. There are currently no plans to rebuild it.