By Susan Drumheller
If you like to skin out of Schweitzer’s bounds, chances are you’re familiar with “Solar Ecstasy,” a south-facing slope off Uleda Ridge that offers some steep turns with great views — and sweet corn snow in the spring.
Below the snow of this side-country haunt hibernates a project that’s awaiting the spring melt, the blooming of glacier lilies and beargrass, and later the din of a mini-excavator, turning over the dirt and rocks for the new Uleda Point Trail.
In the summer of 2020, it’s the fervent hope of the Pend Oreille Pedalers bike club to finish this high-country loop that will take mountain bikers, hikers, trail-runners and huckleberry pickers along four miles of heaven.
That’s why the Pend Oreille Pedalers is applying for a Mountain Bike License Plate Grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to help fund the final phase of the Uleda Point Trail. About 1.8 miles of the ridgetop snaking trail are complete, with about 2.4 miles to go to make a loop off the High Point Trail along Schweitzer’s south ridge.
Trail building is expensive work: the club hires a contractor to run the excavator; saw logs; and put in the rough trail, to be further shaped, buffed and finished by volunteers through club-organized work parties.
Funding for non-motorized trails is tough to come by. Most trail-building in the state is funded by license fees and gas tax, so it tends to benefit motorized trails.The Mountain Bike License Plate fund is one of the few sources of public funding for non-motorized trails.
That’s just one priority of the club this coming summer. The Pedalers also plan to make improvements to the Lower Basin downhill trail below switchback No. 6. This trail starts at the Schweitzer roundabout and is a favorite of thrill-seeking downhill riders who often shuttle to ride the trail.
However, last summer parts of the trail took a beating during utility work to serve the mountain village. The club took this as an opportunity to bring in International Mountain Bike Association trail building experts to help design a new, slightly longer and more swooping, downhill route and begin rebuilding it during a spring trail-building school. Then IMBA-buffed members with a cadre of mountain biking enthusiasts can finish the job during the summer.
Meanwhile, at Pine Street Woods, as cross-country skiers, snowshoers and fatbikers finally enjoy the new Nordic and fatbike trails — thanks to the recent snowstorms, Sandpoint Nordic Club and POP — members of Kaniksu Land Trust’s recreation trails team is thinking about summertime users and their needs and desires.
Balancing out the challenging mountain trails that POP is developing, the Pine Street Woods trails are “gateway” trails for new riders or people who prefer access to the outdoors a little closer to home. KLT has plans to expand the “narrow” trail system in Pine Street Woods for mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners and other non-motorized uses, and is applying for a federal Recreation Trails Program grant to help fund that work.
Both the Recreation Trail Program grant and Mountain Bike License Fund grant are due at the end of January. To get involved or provide suggestions for those projects, contact the organizations via their websites: kaniksulandtrust.org or pendoreillepedalers.org.
Also, stay tuned for information about a March 2 kickoff meeting for the brownfields cleanup project at Black Rock at the end of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail. The gate at the end of the trail is meant to keep folks off private property along the shoreline and a sign there warns of heavy metals contamination on properties associated with a historic lead smelter — now long gone but the pollution remains.
Public involvement is required as part of the federal brownfields grant awarded to the city of Ponderay. Initial meetings will be educational in nature, though later the public will be asked to give input on cleanup and remediation options.
Watch this space for more information about trail projects and opportunities to get involved.
Susan Drumheller is president of the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail and secretary of Trail Mix, a loose-knit collaborative group of trail advocates, land managers, government agencies and other trail stakeholders.
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