Public Gets First Look at Potential Rail Trail Designs

After a week of meetings and tours, designers give first hints of what they’re planning for the core area

By Justin Franz
An historic motorcar rolls through Kalispell giving tours to the public on June 8. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon.

After a week of community meetings, open houses and historic rail motorcar tours, Kalispell residents got their first look at what a new trail through downtown could look like.

On June 8, designers from Alta Planning and Design shared three potential trail concepts at an open house at the Kalispell Center Mall. The designs were based on feedback designers received from the public during the weeklong “deep dive.” Joe Gilpin, one of Alta’s principals, said some of the most popular suggestions were constructing an amphitheater, space for community and farmers markets along the trail, and restrooms.

“The railroad has been here for more than 100 years and with these designs we’re looking at the next 100 years,” Gilpin said.

A contemporary trail design would include space for public art and multi-functional activity spaces. A natural trail design would play on the region’s natural history and beauty, with lots of greenery and space for environmental education. And an historic trail design would pay tribute to the city’s industrial past and include pieces of the old railroad tracks (some of which has sat unchanged since 1891).

Gilpin said Alta designers will spend the rest of the summer reviewing the public’s feedback and come up with a trail concept that it will present to the Kalispell City Council, most likely in early fall. Once the city council gives its approval, Alta and KLJ Engineers will create technical construction plans, with the hopes of presenting that information to the city in early 2019. If everything goes according to plan and the new rail park is completed on time, construction on the trail could begin sometime in 2020.

The rail line was first built in 1891 by the Great Northern Railway. It is currently owned by BNSF Railway, which filed to abandon the track earlier this year. Once the final two rail customers – CHS Kalispell and Northwest Drywall – move to the new rail park, two miles of track will be pulled up from Evergreen to Meridian Road.

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