Building bridges

Forest Service, volunteers pitch in to replace aging bridges

If you’ve been out on a public trail recently, you may have had to change course because of high water around a creek crossing or a collapsed bridge. We’ve all had that Rubicon moment: worth it to hike the rest of the day in sloshing boots, or call it and head back down to the trailhead? If you’re on a 4X4, a wrong decision can have consequences beyond soggy shoes. With more than 843 miles of public trails to maintain just in the Madison Ranger District of Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, and more people recreating here, the U.S. Forest Service is hard-pressed to ready all its trails for the public each summer. This year, June rains and snowpack have put increased pressure on accessibility.

Undeterred, the Forest Service Madison Ranger District is partnering with Montana outdoors groups to replace wornout bridges on a popular trail north of Ennis. This July, several volunteer groups and individuals will work with the Forest Service to build five bridges on the North Meadow Creek trail favored by motorized users. The trail has been closed since last summer.

“The Forest Service can’t always accomplish all the tasks that need to get done out in the woods,” said Joel Sather, Natural Resources Specialist, with the Forest Service’s Madison Ranger District. “We need help at times. These groups stepped in to help get the project done. They raised the money to pay for bridge materials and rental equipment and contributed a tremendous amount of time and energy. Everything they’ve provided is greatly appreciated.”

Sather said the partner groups include:

• Citizens for Balanced Use

• Trail Riders Anonymous

• Bozeman Mountaineers 4X4 Club

• Montana 4X4 Association

“Forest Service regional engineer Scott Groenier provided the bridge designs,” Sather said. “Scott will be on-site to oversee the first bridge build, then Forest Service personnel will work with the volunteers to build the next four bridges.”

Volunteer Richard Hiltz with Montana 4X4 Association expects the construction will take more than one weekend.

“We have five bridges to build, and this is a rough trail, so it won’t be easy to bring materials and equipment up,” he said. “But part of being in the outdoors is working with others.”

The approach to the closed trail is located approximately eight miles north of Ennis along Highway 287. Known as “North Meadow Creek Trail” or “McKelvey Lake Trail,” it’s considered “the toughest, natural 4X4 trail in Montana,” according to Hiltz. He says it’s enjoyed by a variety of motorized and non-motorized users. The trail climbs to 8700 ft. elevation and is about six miles long.

The trail climbs to 8700 ft. elevation and is about six miles long. Once the trail improvements are completed, the public will be able to enjoy its challenges but with brand-new bridges.  

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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