Project to reroute River’s Edge Trail reaches fundraising milestone

Efforts to reroute the River’s Edge Trail along the Missouri River from Broadwater Bay to the 1st Avenue North Bridge area.

The River’s Edge Trail Foundation, City of Great Falls and other groups have struggled for nearly 30 years to find a way to reroute the convoluted jog the trail makes behind the police department, water park and crosses two active rail lines.

The project is starting to become a reality.

This week, Scheels and other community donors celebrated raising $250,000 toward the project, that will be used to match federal funds for the estimated $1.9 million project.

River’s Edge Trail added to national recreational trail system; National Trails Day is Saturday

Through the local transportation planning process, which includes the city, county and state, projects are identified for the use of various federal transportation funding sources, including Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds.

The Montana Department of Transportation’s Montana Air Congestion Initiative-Guaranteed Program sets aside some of those funds for eligible projects, which are bike and pedestrian projects, that are identified through the local transportation planning process, according to Andrew Finch, the city’s transportation planner.

The trail rerouting project was included in the most recent Transportation Improvement Program document in 2018. It’s essentially a 5-year capital improvement plan for transportation projects in the Great Falls area, Finch said.

RET reroute

The proposed new route for the River’s Edge Trail on River Drive South. Courtesy River’s Edge Trail Foundation and LPW Architecture.

Those projects must be matched with non-federal funds so for the River’s Edge Trail rerouting, the city agreed to support the use of those federal funds if the RET Foundation could find matching dollars.

The foundation worked with Scheel’s, which provided $125,000 if the foundation could find additional local donors to match their grant and make the full $250,000.

It took about 45 days, according to local Sheel’s manager Peter Phillippi to raise the matching $125,000 and on Thursday, Phillippi presented Scheel’s matching $125,000 to the foundation.

“We should be proud of a community that has individuals and busineses that are are willing to contribute to projects like this,” Phillippi said Thursday.

Finch is working with MDT currently to get the project started. The first step is to get it into the project development stage, which involves an agreement between the city and the state for match dollars and maintenance of the completed project.

That work will still take some time before the construction process can begin, Finch said. The reroute will require coordination with BNSF to allow the trail to pass under their structure and environmental agencies to ensure there is no negative impact.

“If it was done tomorrow, that wouldn’t be soon enough for me,” RET Foundation President Bruce Pollington.

Donors that raised the $125,000 for the Scheels match include: D.A. Davidson and Company, First Interstate Bank, First Interstate Bank Foundation, the City Park and Recreation Department, Owen and Gayle Robinson, Steel Etc., TD&H Engineering, Pacific Steel and Recycling, JCCS and Bruce Pollington and Roxanne Klose.

Reaching this point has been years in the making.

In 2013, the foundation commissioned a $16,000 comprehensive site evaluation from TD&H Engineering.

In 2016, Finch and the foundation presented the project and possible design options to the City Commission, which directed them to consider pursuing the project but committed no funding.