HELENA — If you’ve been on Mount Helena recently, you’ve probably seen construction work going on around the trailhead. City crews are building a new trail, intended to provide a fully ADA-accessible option for recreation. However, they’ve temporarily halted the work, after hearing a number of questions and concerns from the public.
City staff say they’ve heard from people who didn’t feel there had been enough public input into the project, and from some concerned the trail as constructed won’t meet ADA requirements.
The half-mile ADA trail was initially proposed two years ago by the Rotary Club of Helena, as a way to help people with limited mobility enjoy the city’s open lands. Last year, Helena Parks, Recreation and Open Lands supported the plan and added it to a list of major projects proposed for 2021.
“For us, this was a really important project as far as providing access to people of all abilities,” said Parks, Recreation and Open Lands director Kristi Ponozzo.
The city took public comment on that list, and the Helena City Commission approved the projects last fall. Construction began in the spring of 2021.
Rotary’s initial proposal called for a very gentle slope – averaging 2% – leading to a seating area and overlook on the side of the mountain. However, Ponozzo said, once city crews started work, they determined the planned slope couldn’t be maintained and the designated area for a vantage point was too rocky. She said they made some adjustments to the route of the trail and moved the seating area further up the mountain.
Ponozzo said the trail is still in the limits allowed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, though it will have an overall slope closer to 5% or 6%. She said the city could have done a better job keeping the public updated about the changes – and about what to expect from the construction work.
“It’s very visible, and construction can look probably more messy than what the final completed trail will look like,” she said. “So we want to make sure that we are, in the future, really communicating that construction looks different than what it will be.”
The city commission will hear a full update on this project during their regular meeting Monday night.