By Moira Blazi
Soon, the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) may bring hikers to the local area. Much like the well known Pacific Crest Trail which stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, the PNT stretches 1,200 miles from Washington’s Olympic Coast to Glacier National Park in Montana.
The PNT was designated as a National Scenic Trail by Congress in 2009 but it has been around much longer. The first successful through hikes of the PNT were completed in 1977. Hikers pass though three national parks and locally they hike through the Yaak, but that may be about to change.
It is a testament and a tribute to the magnificent wild lands still left in the American northwest that this can be accomplished, and thanks to the efforts of many local wilderness advocates and civic leaders, if the Pacific Northwest Trail is rerouted it promises to be a boon to many local economies.
As Originally conceived by a non-profit group in Washington, the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) passes through some very sensitive grizzly bear habitat in the Yaak valley on what is more or less a straight line from north Idaho to Glacier Park.
Rick Bass, Anthony South and others, working primarily through the Yaak Valley Forest Council and in conjunction with county, state and city officials, have been busy researching and working to implement an alternative southern route for the PNT in Lincoln and Flathead counties. The new route will take long-haul hikers from around the world right through some of the most magnificent landscapes on earth, right here in Kootenai country. Thanks to the efforts of state, county and local leaders and newly appointed Project Management Consultant, Tony Petrusha, they will also have the pleasure of strolling miles of local urban trails that have been developed in and around Libby.
Petrusha comes to this task with a strong history of problem solving. “My history is one of finding solutions,” he said, “I worked many years as a manager of engineering for a large construction company that built some major projects.”
As an independent contractor representing Cabinet Country Consulting, LLC, Petrusha has been engaged by the state to help manage other projects that often involve the DNRC and county and municipal officials. Petrusha’s role is to listen to their sometimes very different needs and viewpoints, and to help them “get ‘er done.”
“It’s not so much about disagreements between people,” Petrusha said. “It’s more about conflicting information; and I can act as a sole point of contact.”
Petrusha is working on a local project which will tie into the larger PNT if rerouted. The project involves expansion of the Flower Creek parking lot, restoration of a historical building, and extension of part of the Flower Creek trail.
Starting in the lush rainforests of the coast, the PNT crosses the Cascade Mountains and Washington state. It then passes through the north Idaho panhandle and the old mining town of Jennings, near the Montana border. If rerouted, once in Montana, the trail will roughly follow the Kootenai River then pass through Troy using many beautiful preexisting national forest trails along the way. Hikers will travel the Old Hwy. 2 trail which offers spectacular views of the river, then they’ll connect with the Cedar Creek and Flower Creek trails before dropping down into Libby. In Libby the PNT will hook up with a series of urban trails skirting Libby Creek and the Kootenai River which will ultimately bring trekkers to a new section of trail which will be created along the east side of Lake Koocanusa, far up on the top of the ridge. Then the PNT will head up to Eureka and east to Glacier National Park.
“This is a big trail which promises big economic opportunities for the communities it affects … and we have a great opportunity now to look at exactly where we want to put it,” said Rick Bass of the Yaak Valley Forest Council. “Seeing Kootenai country should be no trouble at all for the trail’s hikers,” he added.
Bass, South and others have also been working closely with our neighbors in Idaho who, he said, “feel the same say we do about this great project.” In fact, near Bonners Ferry, some walking trails have already been built south of the river near the old ghost town of Boulder City.
Petrusha is excited about this and other projects being an avid hiker himself. “The original PNT organizers just wanted a through trail to Glacier, they didn’t know the area, so what I and Tina (Oliphant), and others came up with is an attractive southern route which has huge local value,” he told The Montanian.
“(The) Kootenai River is one of the most beautiful rivers in the state and the largest tributary of the Columbia,” said Bass. “This trail promises to offer hikers a very high quality hiking experience.”