Perhaps the phrase “build it and they will come” should be credited to a few fine residents of the Canyon rather than the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.” It was a small group of local residents in the mid 1980s that made the leap of faith that built what is now known as the Path to Glacier, well before the current boom of alternative transportation. A 3.5-mile section of paved multi-use trail linking the communities of Coram, Martin City and Hungry Horse has become a cherished pedestrian/cycling artery winding its way to the entrance of Glacier National Park.
The collective, still comprised of local residents and business leaders, is now known as the Gateway to Glacier Trail non-profit group and is credited with the expansion of that original 3.5 miles into the 11-plus miles that is enjoyed by thousands of users today.
In the mid 2000s, Gateway to Glacier Trail then set the goal of raising the funding necessary to build a safe route for pedestrians and cyclists extending from Columbia Falls to West Glacier. Four years later, the group secured the necessary funds to construct a stretch of trail running between the communities of Coram and West Glacier. Shortly thereafter, by way of grants and matching contributions, Gateway to Glacier Trail insured that necessary improvements along Highway U.S. Highway 2 would happen, as future Department of Transportation projects would allow. Thanks to the group’s success, MDT committed to including a trail component with any future road improvements through Bad Rock Canyon including the bridge spanning the South Fork. This idea became reality late last fall as cyclists and walkers began safely navigating the new bridge that incorporated a separate path in the design as well as adjacent trail connections.
Gateway to Glacier Trail has now refocused its attention and skill set on other measurable ways to enhance our communities. The Gateway to Glacier Trail’s new mission has taken shape: “Developing and maintaining a network of trails within the Greater Glacier Ecosystem to foster stewardship and connect communities to our open space.”
The group’s most recent trail initiatives are both a direct reflection of this revised mission. Specifically, in the community of Columbia Falls, that means the possibility of two new trail networks, one connecting users to the National Forest land north of town, known as Crystal Cedar, and the other, the River Trail.
The River Trail will be a 3.5- mile trail running through vacant Glencore property on the east side of the Flathead River to its terminus, north of the House of Mystery, near the existing fishing access. Gateway secured a license agreement for the trail in 2017 and has been working with Glencore to finalize the trail’s design, layout, and work plan. As of late spring, G2GT received the final alignment approval and is now readying for construction to begin midsummer. Phase one is anticipated to be completed by summer’s end. This new trail system will be a valuable attribute to the community, providing both a peaceful path along the banks of the Flathead River as well as a unique natural classroom of the Glacier ecosystem.
The Crystal Cedar project is proposed on the National Forest lands immediately north of Columbia Falls. The project includes multiple resource objectives geared towards improving forest health, reducing forest fuels, and in partnership with G2GT, creating approximately 25 miles of new multi-use trail. Working in partnership with the National Forest Service, G2GT held multiple community meetings with stakeholders and local residents to shape the trail proposal. The group is committed to coordinating the financial, construction, and maintenance activities associated with the trial network and is working with the City of Columbia Falls to secure a trailhead originating in historical downtown, thereby directly linking the city to the future trail system. While approval remains ultimately in the hands of forest managers, local residents are excited for the prospect of a high quality trail network in our beautiful corner of the valley, which will also supplement the networks in our sister communities.
Gateway to Glacier Trail group has lead the charge to expand our paths and trails, but none of it would be possible without the gracious contributions from many individuals, families, and local businesses. It is that grassroot support that continues to fuel G2GT’s efforts
In the end, all of this hard work to build trails means nothing if they are not used. We see the groups of hikers and bikers utilizing our past projects and the ongoing support of our donors and volunteers as all the motivation we need to keep moving forward. In the end our aim is to make our communities stronger, healthier and more closely connected to this amazing place we call home. If we can invite a visitor or two along on that journey, all the better.
The Annual Pints for Paths Brewfest is coming up July 20th at Heaven’s Peak Lodge in West Glacier starting at 6 p.m. This year includes over 20 regional and national breweries as well live music by Dave Jordan and the NIA from New Orleans. So pack your boots and bikes hit the Glacier trail for a day of fun and then finish it off with a cold pint and toast to future trails. Pints for Paths is a key fundraiser for Gateway to Glacier Trails tickets are available online at www.gatewaytoglaciertrail.com or at select local outlets for $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Can’t make Pints for Paths? Gateway to Glacier Trails is excited to also be a part of The Great Fish Challenge beginning July 25th.
— Sam Kavanagh, Gateway to Glacier Trail