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The paper trail is complete. Now all that remains is to finish the work on the ground.

It’s been 15 years since the Corvallis to the Sea Trail Partnership was formed with the idea of creating a hiking, biking and equestrian path through the Coast Range to connect the Willamette Valley city with the Pacific Ocean.

The project’s not done yet, but after the signing of a special use permit from the Siuslaw National Forest on Wednesday, the end is in sight.

“This has been a long time coming,” Forest Supervisor Robert Sanchez acknowledged during a brief signing ceremony Wednesday morning at Siuslaw headquarters in Corvallis.

The permit, which is good for 20 years, allows the nonprofit C2C Partnership to construct, maintain and operate the segments of the route that traverse Forest Service land. Given the agency’s ever-shrinking trail budget, Sanchez said the sort of volunteer-driven collaboration that got the project to this point may have been the only way to get it done.

“I think this is a beautiful model for that,” he said. “We should be proud of that and celebrate that.”

Gary Chapman, the president of the C2C Partnership, noted that the trail’s genesis dates back to 1974. Early efforts by the Siuslaw National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies to get the project off the ground all fell short, in part because of the difficulty of getting the multitude of public and private landowners along the route to grant easements across their property.

The idea was revived in 2003 following a meeting of interested parties convened by Jerry Davis, then the director of the Benton County Parks & Recreation Department.

“We decided that, by God, we’d go ahead and try to do it one more time,” Chapman recalled.

“Most of the agencies backed off and watched … it’s been mainly a citizen effort.”

But with Chapman leading negotiations with landowners and hundreds of volunteers pitching in to clear brush, build trail, draw maps and post signs, the project moved slowly yet steadily ahead.

In 2015, following an exhaustive environmental assessment, Siuslaw National Forest officials granted the first special use permit for a trail segment on Forest Service land. That led to the opening of the eastern half of the route, a 30-mile segment from the confluence of the Willamette and Marys rivers in downtown Corvallis to the Big Elk Campground in Harlan, in 2017.

After Wednesday’s signing of the new permit (which incorporates the earlier agreement), the effort can move into its final phase.

Over the next year and half, volunteer crews will construct about five miles of new trail in the Siuslaw National Forest. That will be the final link in the chain of asphalt paths, city streets, old logging roads and singletrack hiking tread that make up the Corvallis to the Sea Trail.

The finished route — tentatively scheduled to open in the spring of 2020 — will run roughly 60 miles from downtown Corvallis (with an alternate starting point at the Benton County Fairgrounds) to the Pacific Ocean at Ona Beach State Park, a few miles south of Newport.

Much of it will be open to horseback riders and bicyclists as well as hikers, although some stretches will require alternate routes for those users.

An annual permit, which can be obtained from Starker Forests in Philomath, will be required to use portions of the trail that cross private timberland.

Maps and more information are available online at www.c2ctrail.org. Paper maps can also be found at local hiking and cycling shops and a handful of kiosks along the route.

About a dozen people were on hand for the permit signing at the Siuslaw National Forest headquarters on Wednesday, and they were in a mood to celebrate, whooping and clapping as Sanchez and Chapman put their signatures on the official documents.

But Chapman brought them back to earth with a reminder that a bit more effort remains before the C2C project crosses the finish line.

“OK,” he said. “Now we’ve got to get back to work.”

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald