A Pathway for the People 2

The celebration of the Bitterroot Trail continues

Between Missoula and Hamilton exists a familiar vein to which we all might’ve felt its pulse sometime in our travels. Just outside the city limits, Highway 93 winds alongside the depths of our forests and whips down into the sprawls of golden-tipped grass ready for a first cutting. For bikers or foot travelers, the sounds of these small communities dotted along the Bitterroot Trail are that of ticking irrigation sprinklers, the calls of a cow to her calf, the chorus of children with their too-big backpacks bouncing along the sidewalk, waiting for a red light after school.

Years ago, when this locally famous bumper sticker motored along—“Pray for me, I drive 93”—it was a different type of vein, swollen with heartache and roaring with the potential of more to come as foot travelers, bikers, and even drivers kept up their pace in the effort to co-exist without injury, or worse.

There is a photo of a woman holding an awarded document taken last year at the first celebration and ribbon cutting of the completed 50-mile Bitterroot Trail. Her name is Rachel Osbourne and the acknowledgment is to her strength and courage as the inspiration, motivation, and drive to its completion. Thirty years ago, when she was just a young girl riding her bike along the highway in Lolo, she veered out into the roadway and was hit by an oncoming vehicle. Her story is the one that set a new cycle in motion—to allow everyone the right to safer travel.

Michelle Gray, vice president of the Bitterroot Trail Preservation Alliance, takes great joy and pride in talking about the completion of the last eight-mile stretch in 2016, from Lolo to Missoula.

“The trail itself was built through a variety of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants and matching grants by the county and the city [of Missoula]; however, trail maintenance and improvements were not included in that, and so that’s where the Bitterroot Trail Preservation Alliance stemmed from,” said Michelle.

The president of the BTPA, Jean Belangie-Nye, was the principal at Lolo School when Rachel was hit a few decades ago. Her words were confident when she spoke about the added safety, and not to mention economic gain, this trail has brought, and will continue to bring, to Missoula and all of the small communities along the Bitterroot.

“Adventure Cycling rated [the section between Lolo and Missoula] as one of the two most dangerous sections of highway on their United States trail system…. Now we have this amazing pathway that runs from downtown Missoula all the way to Hamilton,” said Jean.

Last year, the efforts of Bike Walk Alliance for Missoula, Adventure Cycling, and the BTPA, among many others, celebrated the trail with nearly 1,200 bikers at the hosted location, Travelers’ Rest State Park. Cyclists of all ages spun the wheels of their very unique rides, happy to take part in such a meaningful celebration of safe travel for Missoulians and Bitterrooters alike.

This year, Stevensville will be the hosting community to the yearly celebration where bikers can register and begin in either Missoula or Hamilton on Saturday, July 15. Registered riders will be welcomed to overnight camping at the Lewis & Clark Park right in downtown Stevensville, and if packing gear on your ride is an issue, a shuttle will transport your camping gear and any other necessary items for an additional cost.

Wristband-enabled privileges will include trail support, snacks and rest stops, discounts at local businesses along the trail as well as taking advantage of all that Stevensville has to offer, like riding through the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge and up to the Stevensville airport for free ice cream as well as swimming for free at the municipal swimming pool. The farmers market, live music from Jack Gladstone, exploration of St. Mary’s Mission, and a feast of craft beers and local food are also open for public enjoyment.

“It’s pretty exciting to see,” said Jean, referring to the combined efforts being made all across our state to complete the missing links in our pathways. The big vision is to not have any missing sections and provide biking and walking paths border to border, encouraging travelers and natives to take advantage of the grandeur of our treasured state and to, of course, treasure it for all that it gives to us.