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SALTESE – On the map, a new addition to the Route of the Olympian rail-to-trail project doesn’t actually connect anything new.

But that doesn’t mean Beth Kennedy and the folks at Five Valleys Land Trust aren’t thrilled. The four-acre parcel in Saltese is one of 42 tracts necessary to connect a recreation route that runs 35 miles between Lookout Pass and St. Regis.

When Kennedy started working on the project five years ago at the U.S. Forest Service’s Superior Ranger Station, she only had 15.

It also furthers a plan to create a double route along the old railroad passage. Both the Milwaukee Road and the Northern Pacific railroads built lines along the St. Regis River. Completing public access to both could allow motorized and bicycle users to travel the corridor without conflict.

“The Forest Service saw a window of opportunity to purchase this, and we can move fairly quickly on these things,” said FVLT lands director Pelah Hoyt. “We acquired the property and will eventually transfer it to the Forest Service. That could take up to a year.”

In the meantime, the Forest Service has to replace one bridge and upgrade another so travelers can make safe crossings without trespassing on private property. Over the years, many people built homes on the rail grades, or used them as driveways to access their land. The complicated ownership has made reconnecting the rail-trail a surveyor’s challenge.

“We’ve received tremendous support from community members and business members in Mineral County,” Hoyt said of the project. The adjacent Route of the Hiawatha bike path has had a major economic impact on the communities it touches in Idaho. Olympian proponents hope to attract the same business in Montana while keeping the route’s multiple-use traditions.

The new piece helps create a work-around for getting travelers by the Saltese Trestle, a landmark wooden bridge that’s privately owned. When fixed, it will open an eight-mile stretch east of Saltese to Haugen along the St. Regis River.

“We won’t be able to make a link until we fix that second bridge,” Kennedy said. “But the abutments are still there. It’s not like we have to start from scratch.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.