Sunday, November 23, 2008

Could Louisiana do the same thing Montana is doing?

Effort launched to develop countywide trails plan

Published: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 8:25 AM CST
The Daily Inter Lake

The Flathead County Parks and Recreation Board is developing a countywide system of nonmotorized pathways to connect all the major population centers to each other, as well as Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, Flathead National Forest and state and county parks.

The pathway system will include on-street pedestrian and bicycle routes as well as separate off-street pathways, according to a news release from the board.

An advisory committee -- People for Athletics, Travel, Health and Safety -- has been formed and charged with the task of developing a long-range master plan for county trails.

The committee has developed preliminary goals and met with representatives from state and federal agencies, county departments, municipalities and other interested groups. Base maps have been created, and some trails have been proposed to stimulate discussion.

PATHS is planning four community workshops in November to solicit ideas and comments from the public, which will be used to guide the committee's work. Johanna Bangeman is the chairwoman of the committee.

"We need to hear from people throughout the county about their desires regarding safe routes for pedestrians and bicyclists," Bangeman said. "I'm hoping the meetings in November will be well attended."

Rapid population growth is changing the rural lifestyle residents have enjoyed for more than a hundred years. Roads where people could once ride a bicycle or jog have now become unsafe due to heavier traffic. Traditional access is being lost to public lands and recreation opportunities in the area.

"Now is the time for trails planning," said Jim Watson, a member of the county parks board.

Pedestrian/bicycle pathways offer an alternative, connecting homes with schools, parks, offices, and shopping areas, Watson said. Upgrading roads with bike lanes and wide shoulders makes them much safer for bikers and walkers, he added.

The National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program is assisting the county in the planning effort.

"Pathways promote health and fitness by providing an enjoyable and safe place for people to exercise regularly," said Gary Weiner of the Park Service. "Off-street pathways can also provide close-to-home places for people to recreate in a semi-natural setting, and can function as meeting places for the community."

The workshops will be held at the following locations and times:

• Flathead Valley Montessori Academy (Somers): Nov. 17, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
• Columbia Falls Junior High School: Nov. 18, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
• Creston School: Nov. 19, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

• Kila School: Nov. 20, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

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