Coast-to-coast rail trail would pass through county

by Amy Quinlivan
Mineral Independent | March 19, 2020 10:04 AM

Spanning more than 3,700 miles between Washington state and Washington, D.C., the Great American Rail Trail’s proposed route runs right through Mineral County.

As the work continues on this nationwide project residents gathered on March 10 at the St. Regis Community Center to hear about progress being made locally.

Mineral County Resource Coalition member Diane Magone presented on the positive economic impacts the trail development could generate. 91 percent of Mineral County is public land, so towns dotted along Interstate 90 rely heavily on tourism, which is the second largest industry in Western Montana.

“This will be an incredible path to recreationists, and the potential of supplementing local businesses with income,” Magone said.

The Rail Trail Conservancy Project aims to use the existing Milwaukee Railroad bed to establish and maintain a multi-use recreational trail network that can be enjoyed year-round.

ATV riders, hikers, runners, bicyclists, sportsmen, and snowmobilers all are stakeholders in this venture.

For Brooke Lincoln of the Montana Nightriders Snowmobile Club multi-use is part of the group’s main concern. Lincoln gave an update on the status of the Saltese Trestle repair project.

The Montana Nightriders Snowmobile Club purchased the trestle back in 2012 to prevent it from being closed and protecting the network of snowmobile trails in the area.

“We are not in the business of owning trestles, we purchased it to keep our trail system intact,” Lincoln said.

Due to the aging trestle’s structural integrity the U.S. Forest Service would be mandated to gate it and not allow usage until it is brought up to safety requirements.

So far the Nightriders have hired an engineering firm out of Missoula to draw up plans and a design has been created for the extensive restoration that will take place. From pen to paper to repairing the concrete ballasts of the trestle, the cost will come close to $1.5 million.

The concrete ballasts were installed back in the time when electric train engines were still chugging along the railroad trestle. Over the decades the concrete has rotted. The west abutment pier and approach span need attention first, followed by the east abutment pier, and then the bridge deck.

“The engineers said it could all be done in increments, done over the course of two years or all at once, it all comes down to money,” Lincoln said. During the repairs recreationists and riders would have to take a lengthy detour through Packer Creek Road.

A start date on the trestle repairs has not been set to date, however once all of the restoration is complete the Nightriders Club intends to hand the trestle back over to the Forest Service.

Brooke Lincoln, Diane Magone, and Emily Park are part of a committee through the Mineral County Resource Council to pursue future grant funding sources for the trail and trestle projects.

Most recently organizers for the Trail Rail Run pledged a $1,000 donation to the repair work on the Saltese trestle, as well as a $2,000 pledge for improvements on the Route of the Olympian.

Nearly 52 percent of the Great American Rail-Trail is finished.

Across Montana, there are 83 existing miles of trail.

To keep up to date on the progress visit railstotrails.org