The Three rivers Ranger district is seeking funding to improve facilities at Ross Creek Cedars nature trail, a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
The improvements will likely include making the walk through the cedars wheelchair accessible and simultaneously addressing maintenance issues by installing a boardwalk over large areas of the trail, recreation manager Dave Thorstenson said at an Aug. 15 public meeting in Troy.
“This trail gets a lot of use,” Thorstenson said. “And it’s been even more popular since it was put on a list on the internet of ‘one of the top ten things to do in Montana.’”
A report states that in the spring of 2015, a debris dam caused water to back up and erode parts of trail, changing the path of the creek and causing further damage.
“In 2016, we had 11 inches of rain on top of snow in December, which caused the trail to be in the same degraded state as it was the year before even after resolving the debris dam,” Thorstenson said.
Cedar mulch was used as a quick fix to improve the quality of the path tread, the report said, and although rock aggregate is a longer-term solution, it is heavy, making it difficult to transport and causing it to eventually end up in the stream bed anyway.
The recreation crew therefore sought to find a more permanent solution to flood damage to the nature trail, and to carry out surveying of the trail in 2016.
Three Rivers Ranger District intends to prevent this from happening in the future by installing a boardwalk, the report said, but “our primary intention is to provide better access for individuals with a disability.”
Out of 1,618 miles of trails that the district maintains, 18 miles are classified as highly accessible but fewer than 10 miles are classified as usable for wheelchairs or other mobility aids, according to the report.
The district is looking to examples of boardwalks in similar forests, such as the Avalanche Creek Trail in Glacier National Park.
“We want to the boardwalk to be as low to the ground as it can be but still let the water flow underneath,” said recreation director Mary Laws at the meeting.
The district also plans to replace the bathroom blocks at the trailhead.
“We often hear about the condition of the existing bathrooms, which are used frequently and serviced three-four times a week,” Thorstenson said.
Thorstenson said construction will proceed when funding is secured, perhaps as early as 2018.