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Renslow Trestle
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All Over The Map: Iconic Renslow Trestle over I-90 set to open to public in March

A familiar sight for cross-state I-90 drivers  – and a relic of Northwest railroad history – will soon open to hikers and other non-motorized users of a popular trail.

Heading east on I-90 east of Ellensburg, the road curves around, and most windshields offer a nicely framed view of a majestic old steel railroad bridge – with a few visible graffiti tags – that crosses high over the freeway.

It’s not quite halfway across the state, but coming face to face with this vintage piece of railroad infrastructure is a sure sign that if you’re headed to Spokane, you’re almost 50% of the way there.

The defunct railroad bridge is officially known as the Renslow Trestle. It was built around 1909 – about 60 years before that stretch of I-90 was constructed – and the builder was the long-gone railway called the Milwaukee Road.

There actually used to be a little community of Renslow on the west side of the trestle, north of where cars speed past on I-90. Renslow had a tiny railroad depot, and was one of those places that, even in real-life, probably looked like a model railroad layout in somebody’s basement.

As for the origins of the name Renslow, nobody knows where the Milwaukee Road got that name from – a fact that has been confounding researchers (and authors of books about Washington place names) for nearly a century.

The last time any trains ran across the Renslow Trestle was more than 40 years ago. But Washington State Parks, who owns the trestle and the trail right-of-way, was recently awarded grant funding of roughly $1.2 million to add concrete decking and a safety rail to the 680-foot long bridge in order to open it to hikers, bikers, and equestrians.

Brian Patnode, Eastern Region Planner and Acting Capital Program Coordinator for the Eastern Region of Washington State Parks, told KIRO Radio that the work is nearly completed, and if all goes according to plan, the Renslow Trestle will open to the public sometime around March 1.

This means that a key “missing link” in the Palouse to Cascades Trail will be connected.

The Palouse to Cascades Trail, which used to be known as the John Wayne Trail, is the same path that goes up and over Snoqualmie Pass from Rattlesnake Lake. The entire route, which still has a few other missing links – the Columbia River at Beverly; a trestle in Tekoa, Whitman County; and some bridges near Malden that were damaged by last year’s fires – stretches 270 miles to the Idaho border south of Spokane in Whitman County.

And even though the Renslow Trestle is not yet open to the public, there is already a trailhead just to the east of the old bridge on the south side of I-90. The trailhead is right on the edge of what used to be called the Yakima Firing Center and is now known as the Yakima Training Center, or “YTC.”

The YTC is a U.S. Army installation that originally dates to World War II that has grown and expanded in size over the decades. Heading east from Renslow on the Palouse to Cascades Trail, trail users actually go right through the Yakima Training Center. Because of this, users are required to register at the trailhead, but are then allowed to travel across Army property to reach the Columbia River. This stretch of trail across the YTC also includes a tunnel near where the Milwaukee Road community of Boylston once stood.

If your plans this March include a drive across Washington on I-90, build in a little extra time to pull off at Renslow to take a walk across history, and to get a new perspective on a familiar stretch of highway.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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