Mineral County officials agreed to apply for a federal grant that would help restore the Saltese trestle which provides recreation access to the county.
The Mineral County Economic Development Corporation will request $2.1 million from the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program to restore the trestle, which needs repairs in order to remain operational.
The trestle will eventually link the Great American Rail Trail which runs along old railroad beds that will eventually connect Washington D.C. to Seattle.
BUILD, a Department of Transportation grant, provides funding for rail projects and transportation infrastructure. Almost $2.4 billion has been awarded to rural projects nationwide since 2009.
“The grant request specifies that this trestle will remain open year-round as a multi-use structure, including the use of snowmobiles, ATVs, bicycles, those who are running and hiking, and other related activities,” trestle committee member Diane Magone said.
Since the BUILD programs requires a government entity to act as an agent, Mineral County officials agreed to take that role.
“We want to be that government agency to lead that because it will help economically if we can get this final piece and get the Route of the Olympian trail opened for multiple use,” County Commissioner Roman Zylawy said. “We can secure it for the snowmobilers in the winter time, secure it for summertime and fall use for the road hunters the ATVers and people that just want to ride their bikes or hike.”
The Montana Nightriders, a nonprofit snowmobile club in Haugan, currently owns the Saltese trestle, but they are hoping to restore it and transfer it to public domain. The trestle is also a right-of-way for Northwestern Energy’s powerlines and provides access for the fiberoptic cable that runs through Mineral County.
“It is anticipated, should the grant be approved, that restoration would be completed within the next two to three years,” Magone said.
The Nightriders bought the trestle in 2012 to prevent its closure. Without the trestle, their snowmobile trail system wouldn’t exist.
Brooke Lincoln of the Nightriders says their goal is to restore the trestle and turn it over to the U.S. Forest Service.
The trestle restoration would keep the snowmobile trail system intact and would also connect the Rail-to-Trail system, which runs along the old Milwaukee railroad bed in Montana.
Zylawy says keeping the trail multiuse could bring in more tourism and could trigger business ideas like snowmobile and ATV rentals.
“The fact that it’s multiple use would mean people that can do more than just walk it or bike,” he said. “They’ll spend the night, they might rent machinery [like] 4-wheelers or snowmobiles. They just tend to stay longer and enjoy it and visit longer than just a day.”
There is currently a 33-mile gap in the trail from Taft to St. Regis, and after the trestle is restored, that gap can be filled.
The Great American Rail Trail covers 1,900 miles of existing trails and upon completion would cover 3,700 miles across 12 states from Washington D.C. to Seattle.
There are 125 existing trails with 90 gaps nationwide, and there are 83 existing miles and 344 miles of gaps in Montana. Trails in the Billings, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula areas and from St. Regis to the Idaho border currently exist. This includes the Route of the Hiawatha trail, which stretches from Taft across Idaho.
The entire Great American Rail Trail began its work more than 30 years ago and will take decades more to complete. But Rail-to-Trail planners are working with Mineral County to fill in the 33 mile-gap from Taft to St. Regis and the 52-mile stretch from St. Regis to Missoula.
“We are so excited about this project,” Magone said. “It not only will improve the economy of our county by the actual reconstruction of the trestle but will also be a part of a larger project that will bring multiple categories of users to recreate in our county in the future.”