The department cites confusion about the trail location and "the fact that the name is not consistent with the department’s policies for naming trails" as reasons for the renaming. Submit your name recommendations before May 4.
Thirty years ago, horse and wagon rider and John Wayne fan Chic Hollenbeck lobbied Washington state to acquire the land that used to be the Milwaukee Railroad route crossing the majority of the state and convert it into a trail for non-motorized use. Eventually, Hollenbeck founded the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association in the 1980s, which began organizing an annual cross-state ride of wagons and riders along the trail to reinforce the idea that the trail belongs to the public and combat nearby private property owners’ efforts to exert control over the land.
While the entirety of the cross-state trail is officially the Iron Horse State Park Trail, according to the Washington State Parks Department, the eastern part of the more than 200-mile-long trail was named the John Wayne Pioneer Trail as a tribute to Hollenbeck and the Association’s efforts to establish the trail and in an attempt to attract more users to the trail by using the popular actor’s name.
Now the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission has announced that it is considering renaming the trail. Randy Kline, the project lead for the commission, said supporters of the renaming say it’s about time, while detractors lament the use of government resources.
Kline stresses that the primary reasons for renaming include the fact that the name is not consistent with the department’s policies for naming trails. The policy dictates that preference should be given to geographic locations, culturally significant events and places, or geologic features, or botanical or biological references.
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A report from the commission cites confusion between the trails and questions the relevance of the John Wayne name: “Since initial naming, staff has found the current name to be confusing for trail users. West of the Columbia River the trail has come to be referred to as the Iron Horse trail and east of the Columbia River it’s called the John Wayne Pioneer trail giving the impression that they are 2 different trails rather the Washington’s legislatively established cross-state trail. In past trail planning processes trail users have also expressed concern that John Wayne had no actual connection to eastern Washington.”
But there’s still another reason.
“The John Wayne name was used to popularize the initial acquisition of the trail and support for the trail back in the 1980s, and the John Wayne name was really used purely and simply because everybody knew John Wayne and he was associated with the American West,” Kline said. “It was very effective, but, over the years, the John Wayne name has taken on some different, um, connotations. There’s been remarks.”
The “remarks” that Kline is referring to are those made by the actor in a May 1971 interview with Playboy magazine, in which Wayne, with his trademark candor, expounded on everything from affirmative action to the protests and Native American occupation of Alcatraz.
Responding to a question about the revoking of activist Angela Davis’ teaching credentials, Wayne said, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”
Asked about the occupation of Alcatraz and what the Playboy interviewer called “the Indian problem,” Wayne asserted, “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
In the interview, Wayne also classified as “perverted” the relationship between two men in the movie “Midnight Cowboy,” and used a homophobic slur.
In April 2016, California lawmakers rejected the establishment of a John Wayne Day on the basis of many of the statements in the Playboy interview.
However, considering the large role of the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association in supporting the trail, the commission is consulting with the group to ensure that their efforts are still recognized.
“They’re [the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association] an organization, more than any other, that’s responsible for the trail being what it is today, and so we’re very sensitive to that,” Kline said. “We’ve worked with their leadership and their board around the name change and really trying to get them to see how it doesn’t necessarily fit with our policy, why we think it makes sense potentially to look at this name change.”
Tom Short, the group’s vice president and trail development coordinator, acknowledged that “Most of the group … would prefer that the name stay the same.”
However, in his proposal to the parks commission, Short suggests the name “Palouse to the Cascades” as another option, writing, “One can already picture the letters on a background of the rolling Palouse, the Columbia River and the Cascades.”
In an interview, Short said that the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association will continue to use the John Wayne name, and several of the kiosks that they have built along the trail will bear the group’s name as well. “So the name won’t be completely lost,” he said.
When asked about the racist and homophobic comments in Wayne’s Playboy interview, Short said the name of the Riders Association and the trail honors the “persona” of John Wayne and “early American values” of that persona, rather than the actor himself.
“This is not the actor John Wayne that we have ever promoted. What we have promoted is the idea that the studios created and that is not John Wayne the actor,” said Short.
The renaming effort is happening on the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission website, and they want your suggestions. Anyone can submit their thoughts using the big blue “Provide Comments” button on the site until 5 p.m. on Friday, May 4. The commission plans to make a decision on May 17 after hearing a staff recommendation based on public input.