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A proposal to link a trail from Centennial Park downtown to Spring Meadow Lake State Park may have taken a little leap forward Wednesday morning during a walking/planning tour.

A group of nearly 20 citizens, and city, county and state officials walked what has been a particularly hazardous part of the route, stretching from the intersection of Joslyn Street and Country Club Avenue and northwest along Country Club Avenue to Spring Meadow Lake.

This is “a hazardous, hazardous intersection,” said citizen and bicyclist Wilbur Rehmann, who describes the intersection as a free-for-all for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

Once cyclists and pedestrians make it through the intersection, they are on a very narrow stretch of Country Club Avenue that has no shoulder, and they are frequently forced to walk or bike in the borrow pit paralleling the road.

"We’re really willing to accommodate however we can,” said Jamie Hould, park manager of Spring Meadow Lake State Park.

Some of the land along Country Club Avenue belongs to Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Hould said. ”It’s a no-brainer to get people out of the borrow pit and into Spring Meadow park” and linked with existing trails.

“Honestly, I would like to accommodate bikes,” he said, but planners would need to look at how this could be done so as not to disturb wildlife or present hazards for pedestrians. At this time, bikers are not allowed on trails in the park.

“We’re willing to work with Centennial Trail,” Hould said. “We’re really excited to get a trail to the park.”

Completing the east-west trail has been in discussion and planning stages for years, said Ryan Kettel, a member of the city’s Nonmotorized Travel Advisory Council. Once completed, Centennial Trail would run from East Helena through Helena and Centennial Park and out to Spring Meadow Lake.

Wednesday’s walking tour “brought a lot of the challenges together,” Kettel said. It was helpful for the group to see first-hand the road crossing from Joslyn onto Country Club and the lack of pedestrian facilities.

"It also brought forth some interesting options,” said City Commissioner Matt Elsaesser. “One scenario discussed would have it start on Leslie (Avenue) and then connecting with Country Club and then to the entrance to the park.”

Construction could be underway by July 2015 on Phase 2 or Centennial Trail West.

“The (city) commission has allocated CTEP funds,” said City Engineer Ryan Leland. He is expecting Montana Department of Transportation to get this phase of the trail programmed by December, which means the project would be approved to commit funds, allowing it to go into the design phase.

Construction would be underway by July of next year, Leland said.

“An amount of at least $300,000 has been allocated between the city and county for Phase 2 of the project,” said Elsaesser.

Phase 1 of Centennial Trail, from Centennial Park to National Avenue, is being built right now, said county grants coordinator Laura Erikson, who has been working on aspects of the Centennial Trail since 2006. Another section of Phase 1 from the I-15 underpass to the intersection of Billings Avenue and Blaine Street, traveling along Boulder Avenue, has been contracted, she said, and will be under construction this fall.

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“I’m hopeful now that there are enough possible solutions that something might happen,” said Rehmann, at the conclusion of Wednesday’s walking/planning tour.

“It really needs to happen,” he said, stating that some version of the trail has been discussed for decades.

Elsaesser also expressed optimism: “We heard from a lot of stakeholders and some citizens about how we can connect our population to these great rich recreation assets and just to make it safer for commuters,” and also drivers.

“I’m encouraged that FWP, as well as the Archie Bray Foundation and neighbors were willing to look at possible connections,” he said. “It brought together stakeholders, commuters and recreational users, and it deals with hazards and makes more direct connections.”

For more details about Centennial Trail, read Elsaesser’s blog at the following links:

Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083


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