Helena city commissioners agreed Wednesday to decide at their Nov. 28 administrative meeting the fate of the Mount Ascension directional bike trail, currently incomplete after an October moratorium on city trail work.
Dozens turned up at the City/County Building to observe Wednesday’s administrative meeting and give public comment after a Friday Facebook post from the Montana Bicycle Guild encouraged followers to attend. The city placed a moratorium on new trails Oct. 10 after commissioners Andres Haladay, Heather O'Loughlin and Ed Noonan called for one in the wake of contentious debate over the proposed Beattie Street Trailhead project.
With the moratorium, construction of the Mount Ascension trail – originally proposed by the Montana Bicycle Guild – ceased at about 95 percent completion, as estimated by city open lands manager Brad Langsather. He and city parks and recreation director Amy Teegarden told the commission that, between the trail’s two loops, only a few hundred feet of construction and signage remained.
Winter weather conditions would ultimately determine whether work on the trail could resume before spring, should the commission decide to go forward with the trail's completion, he said.
Frustrated by prolonged discussion without action during the meeting, commissioners ultimately asked interim City Manager Dennis Taylor to reserve the Nov. 28 agenda for the directional trail.
Public comment stretched past 6 p.m., two hours after the meeting came to order, and almost exclusively supported a speedy completion of the trail. Some worried the community had been deeply divided by the moratorium.
Kelby Fischer of Helena said the commission would have much to think about in regards to the implications the October moratorium had on the "integrity" of the city's process.
“I hope that … it’s at the forefront of all of your minds as we move closer to hopefully some resolutions – some quick resolution to this matter specifically,” Fischer said.
In contrast with gathered bike enthusiasts, Tony Jewett of Helena gave commissioners a list of measures prescribed by Helena Hikes that the group believes will eliminate conflicts between hikers and bikers on the directional trail. The list began with a suggestion to make part of Mount Ascension’s Eddye McClure trail unidirectional and require bikes to ride it uphill.
The Mount Ascension directional trail runs in two loops between Eddye McClure West and Arrowroot Drive.
In addition to public comment heard Wednesday, emails supporting the trail’s completion poured into commissioners’ inboxes in the days preceding the meeting. One notable letter came from Shaheen Siddiqui, husband of former Helena city commissioner Robin Shropshire.
“The progressive trails challenge the young (and old, like us),” Siddiqui wrote. “They are exciting. They get [kids] interested in cycling. They spend time in nature, they appreciate the environment, and keep them away from [television] and video games. These benefits are pretty obvious. But what we’ve seen that isn’t obvious is how they get kids out of cars and onto their bikes for everything."
The city commission’s Nov. 28 meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the City/County Building at 316 N. Park Drive in Helena. To accommodate an expected high turnout, the meeting will be held in the commission chambers on the second floor rather than the city conference room.