In 1910, the "Milwaukee Road" extended nearly 1,500 miles as it stretched from Chicago to Seattle. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway (CM & SP) was, for a period in the late-19th and early-20th Centuries, one of the Northwest's most popular railroads for the transport of commerce. In the West, especially in the Palouse, some of the most important of those products were fruit and grain. The CM & SP trains, on route from Chicago to Seattle, stopped through dozens of Palouse towns where, in each one, car after car was filled up to capacity with the region's staple crops: lentils, peas, barley, oats, plums, apples, and most vital to the region's economic success - wheat. As late as 1915, most railroad companies that serviced the Northwest assumed that, as long as the agri-business industry was booming, the railroads would continue to experience economic prosperity and growth as well.
This vision of future railway domination was soon usurped by the automobile. With the advent of state-sponsored highway systems, combined with the rise of the trucking industry for fast and affordable commercial transportation, many railroad businesses began to disappear, being bought out by bigger railroad companies, from the 1940s into the 1970s. One such railroad was the CM & SP which, by 1972 was bought out and had abandoned its right-of-way and removed hundreds of miles of Washington rails.
As part of a "rail-to-trails" project envisioned by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the old Milwaukee Road in Washington State was made available for hikers and bikers to utilize at their leisure in 1999. The purpose of the project was to preserve the Milwaukee Road corridor by making it an outdoor recreational destination to allow those who use it to follow the same route that transformed the Northwest and touched millions of American lives. The project, which has been in the works for nearly two decades, maintains and repairs sections of the trail in order to make it safe for outdoor enthusiasts. The Milwaukee Road trail is an excellent way to tour the Palouse and view the region's spectacular panoramas and scenery. The trail takes hikers and bicyclists through some of the most historically significant towns in the Northern Palouse, such as Rosalia, Pine City, Malden, Ewan-Rock Lake, and Lind. Take a side trip through these old farming towns where the original architecture and pioneer cemeteries speak volumes of the rich cultural history found in this region.
The state parks commissions of both Washington and Idaho are, as of 2014, with the help of the non-profit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, still in the process of trying to raise the money needed to repair and finish some sections of trail in order to connect it from Tekoa to the Idaho portion of the trail. For now, the Milwaukee Road in the Palouse ends just north of Tekoa and will hopefully be finished soon. Until then, enjoy a ride or a hike over the enormous, Roman aqueduct-style CM & SP Bridge near Rosalia where you can view the Steptoe Battlefield. The desolately beautiful Rock Lake portion of the trail is another example of the intriguing scenery offered by the Milwaukee Road Trail.