Public Meeting to Discuss Swan River Road Pedestrian Trail

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead County Planning and Zoning Department is holding a Nov. 15 public meeting to discuss a potential trail plan near Bigfork along Swan River Road.

The trail, which is marked for Community Transportation Enhancement Program funds, would be about 1.5 miles long and run from Lee Road – which is near Montana Highway 83 around Echo Lake Café and Swan River School – to Williams Lane.

The meeting is scheduled for Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in the library at Swan River School.

According to county planner and CTEP coordinator Alex Hogle, the project is still in the beginning stages but the planning office would like to hear what the public has to say about the potential trail.

“Really, this is a trail that’s in its infancy,” Hogle said. “The application hasn’t even been submitted to CTEP yet.”

CTEP is a program that uses federal highway tax dollars to develop non-motorized transportation access for the public. If a project qualifies, CTEP will pay for 87 percent of the total cost, while the sponsoring group pays the remaining 13 percent.

In this case, the Bigfork Rotary Club is sponsoring the project, which they submitted to the county in 2010, Hogle said. At that time, the Flathead County Commission asked the community to suggest potential CTEP projects and prioritized three of the submitted ideas: the Swan River Road trail, the Blacktail Road trail in Lakeside and the Old Red Bridge in Columbia Falls.

The commission recently pulled CTEP funds for the Red Bridge project and the Blacktail Road trail application has been submitted to the Montana Department of Transportation, Hogle said.

Hogle said an initial cost assessment of the Swan River Road project put its price tag at roughly $335,000, and the commission earmarked $300,000 in CTEP funds for the project in 2010.

The planning department is still working on the CTEP application, Hogle said, which entails taking the information from the Rotary Club and putting it in a form that Flathead County can sign for.

“Before we do that and take it to the commissioners for approval, we want to include the public,” Hogle said. “This is really an opportunity for the public to ask questions and to provide any input that they might have.”

If the path does come to fruition, it would likely be an 8-foot-wide paved trail for pedestrians and cyclists. The planning department would like to keep it to the east side of Swan River Road because the Rotary Club has already completed some trail work on that side, Hogle said, though landowners on both sides of the road have been notified of the meeting.

The project is split into two sections. The first part runs from Lee Road to the existing path, and the second section completes the journey to Williams Lane.

This trail would ideally be one chunk of a bigger system that connects Highway 83 to the trail running along the Wild Mile on the south end of Swan River Road, Hogle said.

“Ultimately, there’s an interest in connecting that whole gap,” he said. “This project won’t do that, but it’s part of it.”

The trail would also help keep cyclists and walkers off a road with very little shoulder space, he said.

The Nov. 15 meeting will include an overview of the proposed trail and have time for questions, comments and concerns. Hogle asked anyone with questions to call the county planning office at 751-8200.

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