PILTZVILLE - Sometimes the light bulb of a great idea really is a light bulb.
A solar-powered one, in fact. As soon as a few bugs are worked out, Piltzville will have a whole street-full of lamps lighting the trail that runs through this community just east of Bonner. And it will have Patrick Friede to thank.
Friede has a lot more people to thank, too, but he's the one who's done the pole gathering, cement-pouring and other logistics as part of his Eagle Scout candidate project. A Scout since second grade, the Hellgate High junior has already planted eight posts between the Piltzville Fire Station and the railroad tracks dividing Piltzville and Bonner.
"We considered putting it on the (electricity) grid, but that was too complicated," Friede said. "We'd have to figure out how to pay for the utility bills all the time. With solar, unless a light bulb breaks, we're done with it."
The three-mile paved trail has become a popular jogging route since the community organization Friends of Two Rivers held its first Superfun(d) Run there three Aprils ago. It was part of the federal Superfund remediation work included in the removal of Milltown Dam.
"The people who live in the area love the trail, and they felt it would be safer for pedestrians and bike riders if there were lights," said Friends member Judy Matson. "Two years ago, we got a grant from Run Wild Missoula to start the project."
Fellow Friends member Sue Furey knew the project needed someone to focus on it. Her own sons had earned their Eagle Scout medals, and she knew Friede was aiming for his own. As they're across-the-street neighbors, it was an easy call.
"I'm pretty excited Patrick was able to do it," Furey said. "He had a lot of ideas, so I said I've got an idea for you and it's right in your backyard. It's been a great learning experience for him."
Missoula County also provided a generous matching grant for the project.
Friede had to negotiate for discounted light poles from Pacific Steel, concrete from Home Depot and form tubes from Lowe's. He talked Missoula Electric Co-op into lending an auger truck to dig the holes. He researched the solar-powered lights on the Internet. And he corralled nine of his fellow Scouts to help with the heavy lifting.
The first eight holes went in two months ago, and two weeks ago Friede supervised the concrete work. Last week, he installed the first solar light.
That's been the only hitch in the project so far. Piltzville runs along the steep slopes of Bonner Mountain and gets a fair amount of shade each day. The recent cloudy weather hasn't helped either. The result has been a partially charged solar battery that appears to deliver about four hours of light a night. That's obviously not enough.
Furey said the supporters are re-examining the finances to see if they can buy more expensive and powerful solar lights. The current version costs about $600 a lamp, far exceeding the roughly $100 pole and concrete it sits on.
Eventually, the community hopes to have 32 lights along the trail. It already connects with an equestrian trail that follows the south side of Interstate 90 west from Turah. And it will soon link to a network of trails and parks surrounding the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers.
"This is the practice one, so we'll see how it works," Furey said. "I already know it will be a great addition to the trail. So many people are using it."
Anyone interested in contributing to the lighting project can send donations to Friends of Two Rivers at P.O. Box 376, Milltown, MT 59851. For more information about the organization, go to www.friendsof2rivers.org.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.