The Continental Divide Trail north and south of Helena will be mended, extended and generally cared for this week, as two work parties gear up for separate projects and a third waits in the wings for early July.

Shannon Freix, regional representative for the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, set off for the Flesher Pass area Monday, scouting the mountains north of Helena for lingering snowdrifts and potential campsites.

Starting today, a crew of 10 volunteers with the CDT Alliance will begin work near Flesher Pass to diminish an old mining road and touch up new trail. The project will take place at around 7,500 feet and last for nearly six days.

“They’re going to decrease an old mining road and eradicate some of the severe erosion,” Freix said. “They’ll have a mini-excavator up there doing some of the work and another crew to re-establish the trail.”

Freix classified the work as moderate to strenuous, as volunteers must hike five miles to a base camp and work remotely for the week. While tools, food and cooking gear are provided, volunteers must supply their personal camp gear and a pair of boots.

As the Flesher Pass project gets under way, a second project will continue south of Helena on the Continental Divide Trail near Bison Mountain.

The overnight work party, known as the High Divide Trails Jamboree, aims to complete around 1.7 miles of new trail as it drops off the Continental Divide.

“We’re partnering this year with the Continental Divide Trail Alliance,” said John Gatchell, conservation director with the Montana Wilderness Association. “We had 36 volunteers signed up as of Friday. Our goal is 40, and I think we’ll get there.”

While the High Divide Trails Jamboree is now in its third year, the actual project near the Electric Peak Recommended Wilderness Area came together in 2006 when nine different user groups began meeting to draw up an agreeable user plan.

The groups included members of the Last Chance Backcountry Horsemen, the Montana Wilderness Association, the Prickly Pear Land Trust and the Helena Bicycle Club, among others.

In meeting, the groups set aside their differences and set out to protect the area’s wildlands while creating a system of “quiet trails” open to a variety of uses. This weekend’s work will contribute to the overall plan.

“We’re working on the Bison Mountain Trail as it comes off the Continental Divide down to Bison Creek,” Gatchell said. “It currently runs straight down the slope on an eroded Jeep track, so we’re putting in a new, sustainable trail.”

The new trail will be part of a larger 14.5-mile loop that taps into the Electric Peak Recommended Wilderness Area. The trail system also includes portions of the Thunderbolt Recreation Area.

Envisioned in 1966 by Steward Udall, the former Secretary of the Interior, the Continental Divide Trail will be the nation’s longest trail when finished, running 3,100 miles and passing through five states including 850 miles of Montana.

“We’re getting down to just a couple missing links in the system,” Gatchell said. “It’ll now be possible to go from McDonald Pass to Electric Peak. The next section will be to connect this new trail to Jericho Mountain.”

Also this weekend, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation will work near Stanton Lake in the Great Bear Wilderness. Next month, crews with the Foundation will move south and begin work on the Continental Divide Trail near the Valley of the Moon Basin.

“It’s pretty scenic,” said Keagan Zoellner, program director for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation. “We’ll be doing trail work all week. We’ll be working on some clearing and some drainage work.”

To volunteer or find out more, go online to www.cdtrail.org; www.wildmontana.org; or www.bmwf.org.

Reporter Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or mkidston@helenair.com

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