On the evening of September 14, several dozen recreation-goers converged on an undeveloped parking lot north of Columbia Falls. Cyclists, hikers and runners were on hand to explore a new three-mile section of trail recently completed by Gateway to Glacier Trails.
The new non-motorized multi-use trail is the first phase of the Cedar Flats Trail project, which will eventually include 25 miles of trails stretching from north of Columbia Falls to west of North Fork Road.
“We were thrilled to build these trails, and we’re excited to finally share them with people,” Glacier board member Jeremiah Martin told Gateway, before leading a group of runners to explore the new trail offers.
The planned expansion of recreational opportunities is accompanied by thinning and fuel reduction work in the Flathead National Forest. Glacier to Gateway Trails submitted the recreation proposal and is leading the construction of the trail with the help of several partner organizations.
Martin said mountain bikers in the Flathead area provided extensive input on the initial proposal, and feedback was solicited from DREAM Adaptive to ensure the lower trails were built with handcycles in mind, avoiding tight choke points that can be limiting for non-traditionals. Bikes.
“We’ve talked about showcasing the work we’ve done to the community forever and now we’ve done a big section, so we’ve invited everyone to check it out,” Martin said of the evening. “I was really impressed to see such a variety of users, which was really our goal with these new trails.”
Crews broke ground on the trail network last fall, starting with a one-and-a-half-mile section. Earlier this month, track crews completed work on an additional 2.5 miles of track, with another mile and a half or so in the early stages of construction. These trails represent the first of three phases that will encompass the entire Cedar Flats system. The second phase will extend further north and include new trailheads accessible from North Fork Road, and the third phase will include more remote trails leading to and above the ridge line near Crystal Creek. Martin said the trails will get more technical as they get further out of town.
Before the end of winter, this year’s trail construction season, the parking lot at the Fourth Avenue trailhead will be leveled and a vaulted restroom will be added.
“As a local recreation spot, people have been coming here forever,” Martin said, adding that he’s been hiking user trails and area forest service roads for years. “It wasn’t really known as an upcoming destination location, especially with other major valley systems, but now it is.”
Across the valley, the Whitefish Legacy Partners recently held their own trail opening celebration at the new Holbrook Trail Overlook on Big Mountain Road.
Holbrook Overlook was once a scenic and bustling picnic spot before the road to Whitefish Mountain Resort was rerouted in 2008. Now four miles of stacked loop trails will welcome visitors to the area.
“It’s so great to bring this place back to life which has a historic community recreation background,” said Alan Davis, Chief Development Officer of Whitefish Legacy Partners (WLP). “We’ve invested work, money, and time into making this an awesome place to ride in your car. Even if you don’t want to hike, you can walk up to the ADA-accessible lookout and see million dollar views you would normally have to be halfway up chair 1 to get.”
The addition of Holbrook brings the non-profit WLP one step closer to achieving its goal of closing the Whitefish Trail Loop – a fully connected network of trails connecting the town of Whitefish to Lion Mountain, Beaver Lake, Swift Creek, Spencer Mountain and Big Mountain.
The new Holbrook segment will be a conduit to other trails, such as the Ralph Thayer and Smokey Range trails, and kick off the next phase of the $400,000 Taylor-Hellroaring project, a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, the town of Whitefish and WLP this will add nearly 30 miles of trails to the network.
The trailhead also serves as a connecting node for WLP’s overall conservation goals, signaling the next step in the organization’s work to permanently protect the lands around Smith Lake.
“It’s really the starting point as we work to complete not just the Whitefish Trail loop, but also the strip of protected landscape that surrounds the lake,” Davis said. “The backbone of our mission is to connect people to these landscapes.”
Recently, Whitefish Town Council approved an application for a Smith Lake Public Recreation Use Easement, which will protect approximately 600 additional acres of public land, including proposed Whitefish Trail routes, which will bridge the gap between trails du lac Smith and the Taylor-Hellroaring project. .
Davis also noted that there are 10,000 acres of conservation easements across Haskill Basin and Trumble Creek that adjoin the Cedar Flats area, creating a vast interconnected landscape at the north end of the Flathead Valley.
“These trails are managed recreational facilities that provide people the opportunity to get outside without degrading the resources we have in the area,” Davis said. “We have a fierce commitment to connecting conservation areas with managed and maintained trails.”