By Roger Dey

Local group evaluates community trail options in last of three planning meeting


Roger Dey

A trail along the old 5th Street North right of way, maintained every winter by the Ponderosa Snow Warriors for access from town to Sucker Creek Road, came up as a trail that could be developed for pedestrian and bicycle use in the summers to connect downtown Lincoln to Sculpture in the Wild fo foot and bicycle traffic in the summer.

Last week, the Trust for Public Lands held the last of three meetings aimed at designing a local trail system that makes walking and biking around Lincoln safer and more appealing.

The trail planning effort stemmed from the LOR Foundation grant that also funded Envision Lincoln, and though it's a separate process, it's tied tightly to the vision for the community that was established in those meetings.

As the Envision Lincoln organizational meetings drew to close, two of the three 'action teams" tasked with developing various projects for the community independently saw trails or walkways as a priority on which to focus.

"That kind of shows how important this project is to the community," said Karyn Good, the Blackfoot Challenge Rural Sustainability Coordinator, who took a lead in organizing the Envision Lincoln and trail meetings.

Members of those two action teams, along with other local volunteers, now make up a trail system steering committee that will oversee the efforts to create trails in the area around town, focusing on the study area that extended roughly from Beaver Creek Road in the west to the Airport Road in the east, and from the River Park in the south to just north of town.

"Because Lincoln does not have any trials right now, the group thought it was important to start with the Lincoln community, and have a boundary that would give it a good starting place," said TPL's Amy McNamara during a recap of the trail meetings to date.

At the first trail planning meeting in May, the group identified general locations for trails and loops, and discussed the opportunities and challenges associated with a system of designated pedestrian and bike paths.

Last month, the group met again to evaluate the draft map of the trails that connect community assets like Sculpture in the Wild, the Community River Park, downtown Lincoln and the Parker Medical Center. They refined the trails down to 11 trail segments that seemed both the most appealing and attainable.

During the past few weeks, teams have gone out and evaluated the viability of those segments.

"It's one thing to put a trail on a map, connect from here to here with this line. It's a really different thing to ask the group to go out and determine if its viable, to see 'could this actually happen?' and see what the obstacles are," said McNamara.

The goal of a trail plan isn't to acquire land, and it shouldn't be set in stone, she explained. It's meant instead to be a guide that can be amended and revised as funding sources and opportunities arise.

Most of the meeting delved into the specifics of each trail segment, which were evaluated using criteria that included community preference, the trail's destination and accessibility to places for rest, existing infrastructure and possible impediments like property access, the amount of work to create the trail, and the overall experience of the trail.

"What would be needed to move forward with that trail in Lincoln? What was the experience of using that trail, is it going to be expensive or inexpensive?" MacNamara asked.

Group members scrutinized the evaluations and discussed concerns that may have been missed. For example, creating a paved or gravel walking path from 1st Avenue South to the Parker Medical Center along Highway 200 seems like a simple, straightforward project, but issues like the possible red tape involved in locating a path in a Montana Department of Transportation right of way, the cost of paving the path and the potential need for a pedestrian bridge at Spring Creek may complicate it.

Several trail segments in town utilize paths or streets that already exist, but that many residents and visitors might not know they can use, or that they're simply uncomfortable using as they are now.

Some, such as a trail segment connecting Highway 200 to Lambkin Park using 8th Avenue North, could be addressed with a marked walking/bike lane on the edge of the existing street. Others, such as a trail connecting Highway 200 to the River Park using Stemple Pass Road, may require a more substantial trail just off the paved street due to the traffic it sees

Some of the trails considered the most desirable, including one stretching along the north side of the Blackfoot River to the Lincoln Ranger station and a "dream trail" connecting the southeast side of Hooper Park to the Ranger Station, would require approval and buy-in from the owners of private land the trails would have to cross.

In addition to property owners, the group also listed organizations like the Forest Service, MDOT or Lewis and Clark County, and local organizations like the Ponderosa Snow Warriors or the Lincoln Valley Chamber of Commerce, that they would have to partner with or get support from for specific segments.

By the end of the meeting, each of the trail segments had been assigned a score that reflected the final evaluations by the group. Individual members were then asked to identify the four trails they felt should be pursued first.

"The goal is to come up with something the community will see as both tangible and doable," McNamara said.

Members of the trails committee will get together in the next few weeks to analyze the top picks.

"We will finish the report and trail plan in August. and see if we can get to action steps," McNamara said. "I'm really excited to see what what's been prioritized and see how your community will begin to take the first steps on this trail map."

Roger Dey

Members of the trail planning group pick the trails they believe area most achievable.


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