Recognizing the tremendous tourism value of biking and walking trails in America's world-renowned wilderness areas, the U.S. Forest Service has announced it will expand the non-motorized trail network in Montana.
Earlier this month the Superior District Ranger for Lolo National Forest in northern Montana, Tawnya Brummett, handed down her department's plans for the Route of the Olympian, which follows approximately 30 miles of disused Milwaukee and Northern Pacific railroad line.
While much of this casually-maintained corridor will remain open to both motorized and non-motorized uses throughout the year, the U.S. Forest Service has responded to the appeals of trail users and trail-related business owners by designating a section of the trail connecting the town of Saltese to the Route of the Hiawatha open to non-motorized uses only during the summer months.
It is terrific to see so much local energy to expand upon the potential of the amazing rail corridor system in this particularly beautiful part of the country. As we saw from the public comments submitted to the forest service, there is a strong awareness among people in the region that connecting destination rail-trails like the Hiawatha to the communities nearby is a key part of how you build a trails tourism economy. This section will help do that.
Referred to in the U.S. Forest Service's findings document as "Milwaukee segments 1A and 1B," these 3.7-mile and 4.9-mile segments of trail will connect the Route of the Hiawatha's northern trailhead to the Dominion trestle, and then run from the Dominion trestle to Saltese.
The Route of the Hiawatha is one of RTC's 26 Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductees, and RTC staff has worked with locals to help develop plans and strategies for continued trail development in an area where land owner and land management issues can make creating rail-trails difficult.
There is a lot at stake, and the potential rewards are great.
"The Northwest trail system is one of the best in the country and would likely be the best in the world if key connections can be made," says Leo Hennessy, non-motorized trails program manager for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.
Reading the public comments received in support of creating a non-motorized connection to the Route of the Hiawatha, it is obvious that recreational tourism is an important part of the region's future.
"This Olympian Trail will likely bring 10,000 to 20,000 visitors to our county within two years of its opening. This is the greatest potential economic boost for Mineral County in 20 years and perhaps the greatest it will encounter in the next 20 years!" wrote one supporter.
"I believe maintaining this trail non-motorized will bring in tourists from far and wide to enjoy such an opportunity. The economic benefits would be significant," wrote another.