Traveling at the speed of bike is an opportunity communities across the Flathead are working towards. There’s the “Rails to Trails” system that has put miles of bike path on old railroad lines, the cities of Whitefish and Kalispell have been building a network of bike paths, and Flathead County has been looking at a Master Plan of bike paths across the Valley, and how they can connect.
The whole “Gateway to Glacier Trail” project would include 15 miles of bike trail running from Bad Rock Canyon on Highway 2, just east of Columbia Falls, all the way to the entrance of Glacier National Park in West Glacier. President of the Gateway to Glacier Trail Valerie Parsons says it would connect with the existing Hungry Horse to Coram Bike Path, “and I’m really hoping that it provides an opportunity for the communities of Hungry Horse, Martin City, Coram, and West Glacier to be connected without driving,” Parsons said.
The plan calls for a path separated from the highway, not just an extended shoulder area. Parsons is herself a bicyclist. She moved to the West Glacier area several years ago after nearly 20-years working with “Rails to Trails” out of Kalispell.
“I like to recreationally ride, and so I ride to the Park. And so, very quickly, I was stressed from riding on the shoulder of the highway and big semi’s going flying by at 70 miles per hour,” Parsons said add to that the summertime car traffic heading to and from the Park. “So mostly, it was a safety thing for me, I just said this is not correct, and in the summer there’s many bike groups that come here, there are many people with bikes, there’s walkers, there’s joggers; and I just thought, you know, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to enter a park on a bike or walking, rather than driving through the gate,” Parsons said.
She said the first step they’re looking to fund is an 8-mile stretch from Coram to West Glacier at a cost of about $100,000 per mile.
The organization intends to petition the County Commissioners for Community Transportation Enhancement Program or C-TEP Funds, and must put together a 13-percent local match, or just over $100,000 of the $800,000 project.
Parsons said the group needs to show they’ve raised at least $52,000 before presenting to the Commissioners in October.
So far, they’ve raised about $16,000.
On Saturday Gateway to Glacier hosts its second annual “Pints for Paths” fundraiser. Chairman of the event Seth Schnebel of Coram says they’re hoping to get twice as many people to the event this year as last, “we are hoping this year that our attendance will be in the 350-400 range, which should allow us to raise between 5 to 6 thousand-dollars,” Schnebel said they have donated raffle prizes people can buy tickets for in addition to $20entry-fee for the beer tasting and food.
Schnebel lives in Coram and said they hope the path will prove popular not only with locals, but visitors too.
“During the summertime specifically we get a lot of through-cyclists; people either riding from Canada to Mexico or the west coast to east coast routes that come through, and for them, you know, having that path, and then eventually when we have the path through Badrock Canyon, to connect the entire stretch, it’ll be a much safer route for everyone,” Schnebel said.
Parsons said the path is planned for Montana Department of Transportation right-of-way land, and portions of Old Highway 2, which breaks off from the current highway. She says if everything falls into place construction would not start until 2015.
This weekend’s “Pints for Paths” takes place at the Heaven’s Peak Lodge in West Glacier from 5 to 10 on Saturday evening.