Work could begin on a new bike trail between Coram and West Glacier as early as next summer, according to Randy Gayner, treasurer of the Gateway to Glacier Trail. Since the nonprofit was established in 2011, the group has raised more than $85,000 toward building the seven-mile bike path along U.S. Highway 2.
“We are just tickled pink that we’ve raised so much money as fast as we have,” said Gayner, who also runs Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, the group is holding its first ever Pedal For Paths fundraiser. The event will feature two cycling clinics and two different bike rides – a 7-mile trek on the lower South Fork Road or a more vigorous 30-mile ride along the Hungry Horse Reservoir, including the 4-mile climb up and over the Hungry Horse Dam.
Currently, a paved bike path goes 3.5 miles from Hungry Horse to Coram. It was built when U.S. Highway 2 was widened in the 1990s. Gateway to Glacier Trail President Valerie Parsons said the nonprofit group’s long-term goal is to support the construction of a trail from the Flathead Valley to Glacier National Park. The next step toward that goal is the extension of the path from Coram to West Glacier.
“Right now, people ride on the shoulder and that’s pretty scary,” Parsons said.
According to the group, it will cost more than $1 million to extend the trail. The project got a big financial boost in December when Flathead County awarded $871,745 from the Community Transportation Enhancement Program, which uses federal highway tax dollars to develop non-motorized transportation access for the public. In order to use the money, the nonprofit had to put up a 13.42 percent match, or about $117,000. The group has recently received large donations toward that goal, including $3,000 from the Whitefish Credit Union, $5,000 from the Plum Creek Foundation and $10,000 from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.
Gayner said with the money in hand, work would begin in 2014.
“We’ll hopefully be able to break ground next summer,” he said. “We’re close to our goal, but hopefully will keep fundraising afterwards so we can get started on the other sections.”
Gayner and Parsons said the eventual goal is to extend the trail on the west side too, through Bad Rock Canyon to Columbia Falls and the Flathead Valley. That may happen in the coming years when the Montana Department of Transportation rebuilds U.S. Highway 2 through the canyon.
Organizers hope the event on Sept. 21 will bring another boost to the trail’s fundraising efforts. Registration for the event is $25 for adults and $15 for children, but bikers are encouraged to have a personal goal for raising additional donations. The deadline to preregister is 10 p.m. Sept. 18. Event-day registration is also available and bikers get an event T-shirt and grab bag. Festivities kick off early Saturday morning at the old Canyon Elementary School in Hungry Horse and bike rides start at 10 a.m. For more information, visit www.gatewaytoglacier.com.
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