(POWELL COUNTY) On Saturday morning, about 35 volunteers made their way to the Kading Cabin, in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest south of Elliston. They spent the day hard at work on a new multi-use trail project.
“This project today is in many ways the culmination of about 12 years – a long time – of work,” said Eric Grove, with Montana High Divide Trails.
Montana High Divide Trails is a partnership that includes hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and wilderness and conservation advocates. They have organized to build a new trail – open to pedestrians, bikes and horses – from the Kading Cabin area to a nearby ridgeline.
Leaders have already laid out flags over a four-mile corridor, marking the precise path for the trail. This weekend, volunteers began working on building the trail itself, focusing on the first mile. They broke into four crews.
Near the beginning of the trail, a hand crew used tools like Pulaskis – which combine an ax and an adze – and McLeods – which have a flat blade on one side and a rake on the other. The goal was to clear and flatten a 24-inch-wide path.
Emmett Purcell, a trail builder with Prickly Pear Land Trust, said the work quickly made a noticeable difference.
“You get a real tangible visual result, seeing the fruits of your labors, and it’s real rewarding to see something go from nothing to a beautiful trail,” he said. “Particularly for people that have never done this work, they really take a lot of pride in going, ‘Wow, we just accomplished that!’”
The volunteers came from groups like PPLT, the Montana Bike Guild, the Montana Wilderness Association and the Last Chance Back Country Horsemen. They will continue their work on Sunday.
The goal is to complete the initial four-mile section sometime next year. Grove said they will then work with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest to extend the trail so it connects with the Continental Divide Trail.
Leaders say this project came about as a way to balance recreation opportunities and environmental protection. Across the Little Blackfoot River from the Kading Cabin and campground is the Electric Peak area, which has been identified as a potential wilderness area. Mountain bikers have used the area for many years, but that might not be allowed if the proposed wilderness designation moves forward.
Grove said recreation groups, wilderness groups and the national forest reached an agreement to create a new trail outside the potential wilderness area, so that bikers would still have nearby places to ride. He said it was unique to see all of these interest groups working together.
“We’re in a time period when there tends to be a lot of conflict about virtually everything, and trails are no exception,” he said. “What we were able to do is overcome the tendency to just fight over it, and actually work together to get something done for everybody.”
Grove also thanked Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest leaders for their support of the trail project. Local hotshot fire crews even cleared beetle-killed trees from the trail corridor, as practice for the upcoming fire season.
The trail project was made possible by a $45,000 grant the Montana Bicycle Guild received through the Recreational Trails Program. The money comes from the federal government, but is distributed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.