Connecting area communities

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—Photo by MARY MALONE A master plan developed by the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail will eventually extend the approximately 1.5 mile trail through Ponderay and Kootenai to connect the communities to Sandpoint along the shore of Lake Pend Oreille.

PONDERAY — Friends of the Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail finalized a master plan last December to connect the communities of Sandpoint, Ponderay and Kootenai.

While it may be a few years before the plan is fully realized, the group has made progress in securing land needed to connect those communities through public use along the waterfront.

Susan Drumheller, president of the Friends of the Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail board, gave a presentation at lst week’s Ponderay City Council meeting to update the city officials on the group's progress.

"One of the number one benefits of this trail is to provide safe access to Lake Pend Oreille," Drumheller said. "It's our goal to make sure this community and Kootenai are connected to the lake front."

A concept plan was completed in 2010, after which the city of Sandpoint purchased the first two of four parcels needed to secure property along the waterfront. The group worked with the city of Ponderay to purchase the other two parcels, Drumheller said.

The master plan is based on the concept plan but with more details on how to develop the trail and better parking accommodations.

Some ideas for the trail include amenities and educational opportunities. Drumheller said some amenities are already on the way as the Rotary Club built several heavy-duty metal benches, which they will be installing along the trail this Saturday.

Before the trail can be completed, there are several items on the "to do" list, such as the cleanup of Black Rock, an old smelter site where the dirt is contaminated with heavy metals.

"If the waterfront is ever to be used by the public, or even by private individuals, it has to be cleaned up," she said.

One of the most critical items on the list is to secure a railroad right-of-way in order to provide a safe railroad crossing for pedestrians along the trail in Ponderay. She said the Hall family leases the railroad right-of-way and is working with the city of Ponderay to turn over that lease to the city.

"Once the city controls that lease, it really opens up a lot of doors and a lot of opportunities in the future and secures it even more for the public," Drumheller said.

The Ponderay connection, which includes construction of a railroad underpass on Third Street, is ranked as the highest priority of all the connections plotted in the master plan. According to the master plan document, which can be found online at pobt.org, the proposed Ponderay connection includes a primary trailhead and passenger drop-off on the lake side of the railroad tracks and multi-use underpass across from the Harbison property at the south end of Railroad Avenue. On-street parking would be available on the west side of the railroad.

The proposed railroad underpass is located in a drainage gully, and while it is possible to construct the underpass in the gully, it is going to be expensive, Drumheller said.. In order to fund projects in the master plan, such as the underpass, the Friends of the Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail plan to apply for a TIGER grant. TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, is a federal grant program that funds projects like trails in rural and urban categories.

Drumheller said the group would like to apply for the grant in the spring, but said that might be "optimistic." With strict program requirements, a technical feasibility study needs to be completed among other things before the application can be submitted.

"It's a complex project,” Drumheller said. “It's very expensive, but we are really very diligent about putting all this together and trying to do it right.”

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