HELENA — At the Mount Helena Trailhead, you can now see the first signs of what will eventually be a new accessible option for people using the city’s public lands.
Helena Open Lands crews began work several weeks ago on a new half-mile trail that will be fully ADA accessible. It’s part of a project first suggested by the Rotary Club of Helena.
“It’s really encouraging knowing that the two-and-a-half years that we’ve put into the project is finally coming to fruition,” said Helena Rotary president Tony Zammit.
Zammit said he first had the idea after hearing former Helena city commissioner Ed Noonan talk at a commission meeting about how he enjoyed spending time with his family at local trailheads, even though he had mobility issues.
“The South Hills, the open lands are such an amazing resource for the city to have – for all of Helena’s citizens as well as everybody who comes to Helena; you can’t put a price on it,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was a marked lack of access for a lot of people in the community – people with limited mobility, for example – who need to have the same access that everybody else has to the South Hills. This was our proposal to make sure that everybody had that access.”
The trail will start at the lower level of the Mount Helena parking lot, then curve up the hillside, crossing the existing trails. It will eventually lead out to a viewpoint on the north side.
“The end of the trail will have a couple of ADA-compliant benches and hopefully a picnic table as well, and a flat area with vistas of everything from the Continental Divide, all the way through Carroll College, the Cathedral, Downtown Helena, the Capitol and hopefully a little bit of the Elkhorns,” Zammit said.
Crews have laid out stakes marking the proposed route. They have also identified the location for a planned bridge, to cross a gully while limiting the change in elevation. Zammit said the original proposal would only have gained about 100 feet in elevation over a half-mile.
While trails in Helena open lands aren’t allowed to be paved, Zammit said this trail will be topped with a hard-packed surface of decomposed granite that will be accessible for those with wheelchairs. He said it will be 60 to 80 inches wide, allowing two wheelchairs to pass each other or one to turn around.
Zammit said the project is expected to cost about $26,000, and local businesses like Point S Tire and Ten Mile Creek Brewing and organizations like AARP and the Montana Bicycle Guild have been helping Rotary raise that money.
“I think that it really will provide just a wonderful opportunity for people in the community – not only those with limited mobility, but even families who want to come out with the kids who are in strollers and push it along,” he said. “It’s a way to get out in the open lands and enjoy this wonderful asset that the city has.”
Zammit says they have expanded on the plan after talking to organizations that work with people with disabilities – adding three “carveouts” where people can rest, and looking at ways to create a “hard edge,” so those with low vision can tell where the trail surface ends.