ADA Mount Helena Trail Opens to Public | Local

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Helena’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Lands is completing construction of a controversial Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant trail that stretches approximately half a mile at the foot of Mount Helena.

Department manager Kristi Ponozzo said in a phone interview that the trail would be largely completed this week.

On Wednesday and Thursday, members of the municipal team spread rotted granite over the surface of the trail and set up a picnic table.

Plans to build a lookout and a U-turn, with a bench, at the top of the trail have been put on hold until spring.

About 15 members of the Rotary Club of Helena volunteered to place stone curbs along the trail for the visually impaired.

The outgoing president of the Rotary Club of Helena, Tony Zammit, who originally proposed the project to the city and largely led its development, said his organization contributed $ 7,000 towards the completion of the trail. He noted that the Montana AARP contributed an additional $ 5,000 and that the Montana Bicycle Guild contributed $ 1,000.

“One of the goals initially was to minimize the impact of this trail on the parks and recreation budget,” Zammit said.

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Ten Mile Creek Brewery, through its Downdogs and Drafts fundraising events, also contributed funds, as did the two Point S. Tire locations in Helena.

“The lion’s share of the funding came from the Rotary Club, but the community support behind this project was really fantastic to see,” Zammit said.

Ponozzo said the project was valued at $ 26,950 and grants and donations made up about $ 20,000 of the total budget, with parks and recreation covering the rest.

In September, the city received numerous complaints about the size and location of the trail, which prompted city manager Rachel Harlow-Schalk to suspend construction for about a week.

Parks, Recreation and Open Lands staff had previously rerouted the trail some 300 meters higher up the face of the mountain after discovering what Harlow-Schalk called “physical issues” with the initial design.

This change in conception has aroused the ire of some residents of the region.

“What was supposed to be a trail, with a defined and limited range, has turned into a ‘road’ that seems far too steep for wheelchairs (much more than the 2% suggested), has involved quite a bit of work. unnecessary heavy loads and destruction, and goes much, much further and to a totally different endpoint than the original plan envisioned, ”wrote Mount Helena Trail user Dave Carr in a September email to mayor and the city commission. “How can City employees unilaterally break with plans that have been presented to the public and approved by the Commission? How can the City rampage over a community treasure like this? ? “

In an interview with the Independent Record editorial board on Wednesday, Harlow-Schalk said work was temporarily halted due to an accident during construction, angry citizens and “strange behavior” of some residents.

“I meant ‘let’s talk’ instead of them going wild,” she said. “The citizens felt they were not being heard.

She admitted that city staff’s decision to change the design was “pretty drastic” and probably should have received more publicity.

The trail itself is narrower than the construction footprint, which was dug out to allow access for heavy equipment.

Ponozzo said city crews will also rehabilitate surrounding land and reseed it with native grass.

Zammit acknowledged the residents’ initial concerns.

“Construction sites are never beautiful,” he said. “I think it went really well. It looks amazing now, and I just think it’s going to get even better over time.”

The ADA Accessible Trail is approximately 8 feet wide to allow two wheelchairs to pass safely.

According to Ponozzo, the trail will not be cleared of snow during the winter to protect the decaying granite surface.

Mountain bikers will also be permitted to use the trail, and voice controlled dogs can be walked off leash more than 100 yards from the trailhead.

“For the most part, the trail will be fully usable,” Ponozzo said. “We want people to be respectful of all users, especially when it comes to speed.”

She encouraged all users to “make sure you are welcoming”.

Zammit said the project fits perfectly with the mission of Rotary clubs around the world.

“This is a project that will make our community a better place to live,” he said. “It’s easy to take for granted that you can hike Mount Helena.… It gives access to an asset, Helena’s open lands, for more members of our community.”


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