Jan 9, 2013 8:13 AM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News
MISSOULA - There's still work to be done, but three possible routes are emerging for running a trail for walkers, bikes and even horses between Lolo and Missoula.
The trail that makes its way through the Bitterroot Valley parallels U.S. Highway 93 South, and has proven popular with local residents and visitors alike.
But once you get north of Lolo, the options come to a dead-end.
Finding a route for the trail to continue on to Missoula becomes complicated, especially north of the Lolo "Flats", where the "S" Curves, railroad, and Bitterroot River don't leave much space for safe passage on foot or by two wheels.
But a draft feasibility study that should be complete this spring has narrowed down some options that were presented at a well attended meeting in Lolo Tuesday night.
Those include an "A" and "B" option that would cross the river at Buckhouse Bridge and then follow the general highway right-of-way south to Lolo. A third option, known as "C", would navigate through the wetlands near the river.
"We're still in the draft stages of the feasibility study," explained Project Manager Christopher Anderson. "So we're not ready to say what is, or isn't feasible. But certainly [option] 'C' has presented some challenges."
Those challenges include concerns from biologists about running the trail through wetlands and wildlife habitat.
During this workshop, people made it clear keeping the trail accessible, and at a safe distance from the highway traffic are their biggest concerns.
Wherever the 10-foot trail is built, it won't be cheap. Price estimates range from $3 miliom-to-$5 million for the first two routes, and as much as $7 million for the third, because of the river crossing.
But Anderson said the study is also looking at funding, including possible federal money...
"There are different funding options out there. We're pursuing all the avenues that are available to us. Right now the focus is on some federal funding that may be available. But there's no guarantee with that funding of course. So we're looking at all possible funding options."
Over 50 people turned out at the Lolo Community Center to hear more about the trail plans, with several offering up written comments on the topic.
Anderson told us that the report, with recommendations, should be available for review sometime in early March.
Click here to view the alternatives being looked at by the feasibility study.