With a solid thud, pickaxes and shovels cut beneath the duff exposing the dirt beneath. Swing after swing, this went on for hours as a path gradually appeared. By day’s end, the route was complete.
It seems that every year, a new section appears in Helena’s South Hills trail system. Last Saturday, nearly 30 volunteers converged southeast of Mount Ascension to provide a new link for a couple of popular trails.
Beginning about 100 yards up the 2006 Trail from the trailhead off of Arrowroot Drive, the new trail offers hikers and bikers a second route, this one staying to the south and cutting for about a half mile to the Entertainment Trail, said Robert Rasmussen, Prickly Pear Land Trust trails director.
While one section of the trail was completed during a volunteer PPLT trail work night in June, a group of volunteers organized by Walter Evans completed the connector. The project was part of Evans’ work to become an Eagle Scout, as he brought together other scouts and members of his baseball team and the Helena Dynamos biking club to build the trail.
“I've always liked the outdoors, camping, mountain biking and hiking, so I thought it would be great to give the city of Helena another trail,” Evans said in an email while on his latest adventure in Japan.
Evans credited Jim Utterback for an introduction to Rasmussen and the trail project. Evans said he is grateful for the opportunity.
“It was hard work, but we had a lot of people and we really enjoyed building the trail, so it was a combo of both,” he said.
The volunteer group came ready to work, completing the trail in only one day rather than the two allotted, Rasmussen said.
The trail was originally designed to stay mostly on city property, but changes place the route more on PPLT land and away from adjacent private ground, he said. Besides opening up a new route, the connector trail lets users avoid doubling back to the north, he added.
“We’re seeing interest on that east side of Ascension from more user groups,” said PPLT executive director Mary Hollow. “As more people discover these trails and places they’ll get more use, which is a good thing for Helena and promoting a healthy lifestyle.”
While many people think of PPLT for trails, expanding and using the trails is about building a bigger vision of outdoor recreation, she said.
“In a bigger sense, it’s about a quality of life which is a big reason many people live and work here,” Hollow said.
As part of celebrating the outdoor lifestyle and the first Montana Open Land Month, PPLT will host a celebration Thursday, July 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Upper Prickly Pear Fishing Access site, located at the end of Olsen Road off of York Road. The event will include root beer floats, speakers and information about the project – the first of the PPLT’s Helena Valley Heritage Initiative.