Monday, July 15, 2024

Tarkio to Crystal Springs newest section of rail-to-trail project

Mineral Independent | June 12, 2024 12:00 AM

The discussion and initial planning began in the 1980s and from the inception, Mineral County has been a key component of the Great American Rail to Trail project.

This iconic system will cover more than 3,600 miles from Washington, D.C. to the Washington state coast, and travel through 12 states and the District of Columbia. There are over 150 trail systems that are linked today as more segments to complete the route are being developed, with one of the newest being the Tarkio to Crystal Springs section.

Diane Magon is the chair of the Mineral County Rails to Trails committee with board members Dick Darne, Jim Goss, Brooke Lincoln and Bert Lindler. 

“There are so many others that are helping us,” Magone said, “that I can’t thank enough for making this all come together.” 

This was at the recent dedication of a critical portion in Mineral County which now allows cyclists to leave I-90 and avert three bridges that have narrow shoulders that has been worrisome as more and more are riding the trail. About 2 dozen people were present at the trailhead of the newest portion near the Crystal Springs Exit including the Department of Natural Resources, Montana FWP, Mineral County Rec Club, the Rails to Trails Conservancy and the Woodhouse Foundation. Doug and Dana Austin received hearty applause as their contribution from the private sector was essential for this to happen. 

Doug explained to the audience how the Woodhouse Foundation came to be, and the dream for this property from many years ago. 

“The Woodhouse Family Foundation came into existence through Dana’s parents, who are both deceased, her brother Kirt Woodhouse and Dana,” he began. “Dana's father, Milton K. Woodhouse, known as ‘Woody’, served with distinction in the Navy in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. He was the navigator on board one of the ships. Dana's mother was Margie Woodhouse. During retirement they enjoyed jumping onto military transports on short notice when room was available and travelled to many parts of the world. Since Woody was a retired officer, they could stay on military bases. They were avid bicyclists. Hence, we believe they are pleased to have played a role in supporting the Mineral County Rails to Trails group, and the creation of this bicycle trail between Crystal Springs and Tarkio.” 

The Austin Loop is a section of the old Milwaukee Railroad bed that overlooks the Clark Fork River and has provided a right-of-way to Mineral County Rails-to-Trails to allow for public use. 

Amy Helena, DNRC Unit Manager, developed a contract that provides a Land Use License to allow for non-motorized use for the public. This section of land parallels I-90 and provides a safe alternative to bikers as they ride west on the freeway.  The two existing jeep roads are being upgraded minimally to provide for a smoother surface and a third trail has been constructed at the west end of the Milwaukee Railroad bed to form a loop for access to the scenic trail.  

There is an annual fee of $800 to pay for the license and Mineral County Rails-to-Trails must maintain an insurance policy for the duration of the lease. 

The full loop is not open at this time because of an active bald eagle nest but as soon as the eaglets are gone, word will spread so hikers, bicyclists, walkers with dogs on leash and nature lovers will be able to enjoy this shoreline excursion. The Jeep roads provide access to Tarkio for now.