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Community discusses Jocko Valley trails

ARLEE — A community meeting March 3 gave Arlee area residents a chance to share ideas and get up to speed with the latest work of the Jocko Valley Trails Committee.

Formed four years ago just after the Arlee Community Development Corporation got its start, the Jocko Valley Trails Committee is a group of volunteers whose mission is to partner with local governments and the Jocko Valley community to create a recreational trails network in the area. The ultimate goal, chairman Gary Decker said, is to create a trail network from Evaro to Ravalli that will eventually link with a system of trails throughout the Mission Valley.

Decker updated attendees of last Wednesday’s meeting on four grants the committee has either applied for or already received. The Arlee School recently applied for a Safe Routes to Schools grant for $249,000, which would fund a trail from Oxford Lane to the Arlee School and from the elementary school to Powwow Road and out to Jocko Road. 

“We’re hoping to hear this month on that,” Decker said.

The committee also applied for a National Parks Service cost-share challenge grant, with a maximum award of $30,000 available, and Decker said he’s received unofficial word that “we got the highest mark on our grant.” 

Another source of funding is $150,000 from a community transportation enhancement program that Lake County Commissioners allocated to JVTC. Decker hopes the money will allow the committee to put in a trail on U.S. Highway 93 across from the existing equestrian trail. 

And a grant from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program paid for rivers and trails consultant Gary Weiner to help the committee with planning. Weiner was on hand at last week’s meeting to discuss the benefits of recreational trails to communities.

His recent work includes trail-planning projects in areas like the Fort Belknap Reservation, Gallatin County and other rural Montana communities.

“Recently, there’s a heightened interest in rural areas … in trails,” Weiner said.

People are realizing more and more the benefits to having trail networks, he explained — benefits ranging from alternate transportation methods to healthier lifestyles, economic growth and social perks.

“Obviously this isn’t new; for thousands of years people have been walking on trails,” Weiner said. “(But) we’ve gotten really addicted to driving everywhere, since most communities are based around roads.” 

When communities start to break that addiction to driving, and more people walk or bike, a trail can become a centerpiece of the community, he said. The key is to incorporate trails into the community in a convenient way that doesn’t require people to drive to a trailhead, “so people can use them doing what they’re doing anyway,” Weiner said.

Some trails become attractions for out-of-town visitors, too, and can contribute to economic growth. If non-locals are using the trails, they’ll buy coffee, lunches, gasoline, etc., when they get to town, Weiner noted, boosting the local economy. Trails also drive up property values — in a national survey, trails ranked second on a list of the most important community amenities.

“People really value having quick access to trails near their house,” he said. 

Les Evarts, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes fisheries manager, also gave a brief presentation about the Jocko River Restoration Project and discussed ways the tribes would like to incorporate walking trails into the area. 

The river restoration area offers plenty of educational opportunities, and eventually a trail with informative signs could provide an excellent opportunity for a self-guided tour, he said.

“We think there’s a lot of opportunity in this situation to use a trails system,” Evarts said.

More information about the restoration can be found at, and Evarts said he’s always happy to give tours of the area upon request.

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