Trails plan calls for moratorium of new county-maintained paths

by Chris Peterson
Editor | May 20, 2020 9:30 AM

Flathead County Commissioners last week approved an addendum to the county’s 2010 trails plan that recommends a moratorium on any new trails while the county examines ways to pay for maintaining the trails it has.

The county has about 33.6 miles of paved trails it’s responsible for and about 15 miles of unpaved trails.

The paved trails are expensive to maintain — about $2,100 a mile annually. Trails near schools are even more expensive, because they’re plowed. That costs about $1,925 a year, the county estimates.

Still county commissioners noted that there’s about $300,000 in the budget for trail maintenance.

The idea of this plan is to take a look at the trails the county has, prioritize maintenance on each one and then come up with a 10-year plan to pay for it.

“The county is also relying on community groups to pursue other funding sources for trail maintenance including grants, donations and fundraising events,” the plan states.

But it also puts the onus on those groups to ask for local taxpayers dollars.

“If interested, community groups will be responsible for initiating the creation of a special improvement district or a ballot measure to put a trails levy on the ballot for a countywide vote,” the plan states.

The county is hoping that trails advocates will continue to work with the parks department and parks board on the plan.

There are plenty of proposed trails in the county, but coming up with funding, whether it’s private or public, is the key to future success.

In the Columbia Falls area, the longest trail the county has is the Gateway to Glacier Trail from Coram to West Glacier at just under 7 miles.

Only one trails group, the Gateway to Glacier organization, has provided funding to maintain a paved trail, a little less than $58,500 for the trail that runs from Coram to West Glacier. Volunteer groups also help the county with maintenance on other trails, however, the plan notes.

It took several years of fundraising for the Gateway group to raise the money. It continues to be active and is currently working on more trail projects in the Columbia Falls area, including a dirt trail on Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. lands along the Flathead River. It’s also working with the Forest Service on a network of trails in the Cedar Creek area just north of the city.

The Forest Service is also requiring a maintenance agreement for trails on its lands.

There’s at least a thousand miles of trails already on state and federal lands in the county, which are maintained in part by the agencies as well as volunteer groups.

Sarah Dakin, a longtime members of PATHs, a group that works with the county on trails, said she was pleased to learn that there is $300,000 available for maintenance, While the addendum is isn’t what the group originally envisioned, “It’s a step forward,” she said.

She noted that a county trails system has broad support among many constituents.

PATHs, which stands for People, Athletics, Travel, Health, & Safety, was a committee that worked with the county on a vision for trails for two years and developed several new routes,