Crews have completed a new trail in the Herron Park recreational area, and are nearing completion of a gently sloping trail that meets the standards of the American with Disabilities Act. They also replaced an old horse trail with a new path that has improved structure and water drainage.
Matt Brake, of the Foys to Blacktail Trails group, said the ADA-approved path is the only mountain trail of its kind in the valley and is expected to be open by May 14. In addition to providing more access for the disabled, Brake said the trail is optimal for the elderly, children and anyone looking for a leisurely outing in the woods.
The trail maintains an average 5 percent grade and is never steeper than 8 percent. It also far exceeds the minimum 36-inch width required by the ADA, making it spacious enough for two people to walk side by side. The trail will be lined with rock benches, which Brake said are “vandal proof.”
“Trails like Rails to Trails meet the standards,” Brake said, “but there’s nothing that’s a trail in the woods like this.”
The trails are part of a larger plan to significantly increase trail availability at Herron Park, a recreation area widely used by bikers, horses, hikers and joggers. Design plans began last fall, Brake said. Since then, the Foys to Blacktail Trails group and the Flathead County Parks Board have been working together to implement the plan.
If funding is available, Brake said the final trail system will have more than 15 miles of trails. Brake estimated the system is at about 50 percent of that total. Crews have to put the final touches on the ADA-approved trail, called the “family trail,” before it will be open to the public. The new horse trail opened on April 30. The third trail – the “direct route” – is also open, providing opportunities for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.
The trails are located on Flathead County land, but they didn’t cost the county any money to build, Brake said. Trail crews from the Montana Conservation Corps worked for three weeks under a $13,000 state grant and Brake, the project manager, volunteered most of his time. Several local companies donated equipment, including mini excavators.
Jim Watson, of the Flathead County Parks Board, said Forestoration, Inc., and other groups have made contributions to Herron Park’s new trails.
“There’s a huge amount of trail building going on and a lot of people have helped out,” Watson said.
Members of the Montana Conservation Corps provided much of the muscle, working in muddy conditions with hand-held tools. Julia Lettrich, regional program coordinator for the conservation corps, said the experience will help corps members during future trail projects.
“It’s been a nice opportunity to see the whole process of trail building,” Lettrich said.
Foys to Blacktail Trails formed in 2000 with the goal of creating a trail corridor from Herron Park – in the Foys Lake vicinity – to Blacktail Mountain, Brake said. But after several years, 320 acres of land adjoining Herron Park became available for sale through the Conservation Fund. The Foys to Blacktail Trails group then refocused its attention on raising money to purchase that land.
If purchased, the 320 acres would essentially grow Herron Park from 120 acres to 440 acres. Thus far, $425,000 of the necessary $2.2 million has been raised, Brake said. Brake said funds will be available if the U.S. Congress opts to fully fund the Forest Legacy program.
Brake said the new trails were designed with structural and maintenance concerns in mind: re-seeding disturbed areas, using slash where appropriate and raking debris in a fashion conducive to vegetative growth.
“These trails,” Brake said, “should be much more sustainable from a management perspective.”
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