Presentation on theme: "CORRIDOR OF DISCOVERY TRAIL A proposal to create a 95-mile long non-motorized trail between Great Falls and Helena. Bob Walker Photos."— Presentation transcript:
CORRIDOR OF DISCOVERY TRAIL A proposal to create a 95-mile long non-motorized trail between Great Falls and Helena. Bob Walker Photos
In 1886 a railroad line was constructed by the Montana Central Railway between Great Falls and Helena. The railroad was operated by Montana Central Railway until 1907; by the Great Northern Railway between 1907 and 1970, and by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) from 1970 until the present.
There has been no traffic on the line since 2000 due to an unstable and slumping rail bed and riverbank near Ulm. The line has been “out-of-service” ever since. BNSF has repaired the bank of the Missouri River but has not repaired the rail bed and the tracks remain severed.
The Great Falls to Helena railroad line was identified as an “at risk rail line” in danger of abandonment in a 2004 study entitled Montana Branch Line Study, Phase 2.
The Executive Summary states that “Currently the Great Falls – Helena rail line is not operational, and it appears that BNSF is in no hurry to correct the riverbank stability problem which closed the line, which has no on-line customers. BNSF has been diverting north / south traffic, which formerly was “bridged” on this line, to its Great Falls – Laurel rail line.”
Community leaders, grain growers, rail shippers and other interested parties strongly advocate competitive railroad operations as a means to establish competitive shipping rates and further envision the establishment of competitive railroad operations on the Great Falls to Helena route as a means to enhance the marketability of this region and of Montana – produced products.
The preferred interest of all involved parties is to reestablish the railroad line as an active, useful and productive carrier of commerce. However, at present it is questionable whether any other entity is interested in acquiring, repairing and operating the rail line; and if there was, it is questionable whether BNSF is interested in relinquishing ownership of the rail line.
If BNSF formally abandons the rail line, and no other legitimate entity acquires it, it is highly likely that this historic rail corridor would be fragmented into many ownerships, making it difficult if not impossible to reassemble the corridor into a functioning railroad if future economic conditions warranted.
However, acquisition of the entire rail corridor by a public entity or other organization could protect its connectivity and continuity for other interim public and beneficial uses such as a non – motorized recreational trail
The proposed trail, informally dubbed the “Corridor of Discovery Trail” would create excellent opportunities to connect the urban bike and pedestrian systems in both Helena and Great Falls with outlying urban and suburban neighborhoods as well as to provide a new public transportation and recreational facility for use and enjoyment by the public.
The Corridor of Discovery Trail could become one of the most scenic and commercially viable trails in the country and could provide the State of Montana with a world–class tourism destination, thus providing economic development opportunities for Great Falls, Helena and the communities in between.
These opportunities could be similar to Idaho’s “Trail of the Coeur d’ Alenes” and other well-visited rails-to-trails around the country. An array of new and expanded businesses and support services could be created in both cities and in the communities along the trail.
The 73-mile long “Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes” follows an abandoned railroad right of way between Plummer and Mullan, Idaho. As many as 100,000 people rode the trail during its first official year of operation in 2004, according to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, which used laser counters to track use.
“The impact of the bike trail is second only to Silver Mountain and Lookout Pass Ski Area. It might have even more of an impact because it’s so spread out,” said Joe Peck, owner of the Enaville Resort. Peak estimates that 60 % of his weekend restaurant receipts are trail related during the summer months.
According to a 2003 report by the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, the average daily expenditure of tourists visiting Montana is $116.00. If the Corridor of Discovery Trail attracted even half as many visitors as the Trail of the Coeur d’ Alenes in northern Idaho, the direct economic impact to communities along the Great Falls to Helena trail could be well over $5 million per year.
Preserving the rail bed corridor extending from Great Falls to Helena presents a dynamic opportunity for the State of Montana. This preservation will allow Montanans and future generations to experience the spectacular natural and historic features of a traditional trade route extending from the plains to the continental divide.
The beautiful 95-mile corridor along the Missouri River and Prickly Pear Creek could easily become one of the most popular and well-used rail trails in the country.
In early 2005 an Action Committee was established in Helena to explore the acquisition of the BNSF Great Falls to Helena line, and the development and operation of a non-motorized trail. Several months later an Great Action Committee was formed in Great Falls.. The Helena committee is affiliated with the Prickly Pear Land Trust and the Great Falls committee is affiliated with Recreational Trails, Inc.
The committees worked together to develop an organizational structure, to understand and address the issues and generate support for the Corridor of Discovery Trail. Encouraging discussions were held with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy regarding their technical assistance in this effort, and with potential national partners Trust for Public Lands and the Conservation Fund, who could provide bridge financing and expertise in negotiating the acquisition.
The Action Committees acknowledge the grain growers, rail shippers and other interested parties who envision the establishment of competitive railroad operations on the Great Falls to Helena line. But if that is not possible, we support keeping the rail corridor intact through a process such as Railbanking for its future possible reuse as a rail line and for interim use as a public non-motorized trail.
The Action Committees recognize that adjoining landowners may have concerns with possible conversion of the rail line to a public trail, such as spread of noxious weeds, law enforcement issues, interference with the use of their property, etc. We encourage and expect all groups, organizations and public agencies engaged in the acquisition and conversion of the line to work with landowners, appropriate state and local governmental agencies and elected officials to avoid, address and mitigate identified impacts and concerns consistent with applicable state and local regulations.
We recognize that the acquisition and conversion of the Great Falls to Helena line into a public trail will require a dedicated partnership of public and private sector entities. We can look to the experience of hundreds of rails-to-trails conversions in operation around the country. Most of the issues and challenges we face have been addressed successfully on these trails.
The 3-part Great Falls Tribune Editorial series on the Corridor of Discovery Trail raised public awareness of the great opportunity and challenges ahead. We will try to build on this awareness in the coming months as we discuss the project with land and business owners and with civic groups and other organizations. (October, 2005)
The City Commissions of Great Falls and Helena and the Cascade and Lewis & Clark County Commissions adopted Resolutions of Support for the Corridor of Discovery Trail.
We don’t know what BNSF plans to do with the Great Falls to Helena line. They have quite a few options. One of those is to continue to do nothing with the line or use it as a parking lot for out-of-service railcars. Maybe the line can become active and profitable again. If that happens it is good news for our area. But, if not, it would be nice if this scenic transportation corridor could be kept intact, and one great way to do that would be to convert it into a tourist attraction for summer months and a resource for locals year around.
4 years ago the railroad said no to the Corridor of Discovery Trail. But times change, business plans change, and stranger things have happened. Although not recently. But it could happen. It would be a sweet trail.