Rail Trail ‘Deep Dive’ Begins in Kalispell

Designers, city officials, public are riding the rails this week to plan future trail

By Justin Franz
City officials tour the railroad through downtown Kalispell on June 4, 2018 to help plan for the trail that will eventually replace it. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Trail designers, city officials and the public are getting a look at Kalispell from a vantage point they rarely get to: from the railroad tracks that cross downtown and will soon become a new walking trail.

This week, the City of Kalispell is kicking off a “deep dive,” a series of events to let the public have their say in how the rail trail from Woodland Park to Meridian Road will be designed. On Monday, local leaders, trail designers and the media rode a “hi-rail truck” – a pickup truck that can drive on rails – from downtown Kalispell to Evergreen.

“This was a really unique opportunity to see the city from the rail,” said Pam Carbonari, former mayor of Kalispell and Kalispell Downtown Association coordinator. “There’s so much potential.”

Mary Stewart, a senior design associate with Alta Planning and Design, was also along for the ride gathering input from others. She said there are a “million directions” designers could take the trail; however, many people have expressed an interest in designing the trail in a way that helps maintain a connection to the town’s history with the railroad and associated industries. Among the possibilities for the new trail are incorporating some pieces of the old tracks into the trail or landscaping. Some have even suggested trying to keep old historic buildings – like the old CHS Kalispell grain elevator – and redeveloping it.

“The more things unique to Kalispell that we can include in the design, the better,” Stewart said. “The feedback we get this week will help us figure out how to design it.”

Additional events are planned throughout the week.

The owner of the tracks, BNSF Railway, has filed to abandon the rails through town, and trains will stop running into Kalispell once the new Glacier Rail Park is completed east of town off Whitefish Stage Road later this year.

In April, the Kalispell City Council selected Alta Planning and Design and KLJ Engineers to design and construct the new rail trail. Removal of the old railroad, engineering and construction of the new trail and the rebuilding of a cross-street — to be selected from a choice of three options — through the core area is expected to cost approximately $4 million.

Kalispell Rail Trail Events

Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, 15 Depot Park – Open studio drop-in where the public can talk to designers, city officials about their hopes for the trail.

Wednesday, 5 to 7 p.m., ImagineIF Library, 247 First Ave East — Public roundtable discussion about trail design options.

Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, 15 Depot Park — Public railroad “motor car” tours of the rail line. Reservations required.

Thursday, 5 to 7 p.m., Kalispell Center Mall, 20 North Main Street, Evening roundtable discussion.

Friday, 3:30 to 6 p.m., Kalispell Center Mall, 20 North Main Street, Design alternatives presentation and roundtable discussion.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated multiple cross-streets were slated to be rebuilt. Only one cross-street will be rebuilt, selected from three choices: Woodland Avenue, Eighth Avenue West or Sixth Avenue West. We regret the error.

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