Havre Daily News
Local historian Gary Wilson hopes recreational vehicles and station wagons will soon follow the path of horse-drawn covered wagons. The Montana Legislature this year supported a tourism project expanding the Old Forts Trail, which includes Fort Assinniboine.
Wilson has spearheaded the project locally to get more tourists on the old route and into Fort Assinniboine, said Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, who carried the bill in the Legislature at Wilson's request.
The Legislature agreed to the first part of the project in 1997, establishing the Old Forts Trail and linking Fort Benton and Fort Assinniboine on the U.S. side with Fort Walsh and Fort Battleford on the Canadian side. The new section is a western leg of the trail.
The entire trail follows old trade routes, and Wilson noted that the highways that roughly parallel them are modern-day trade routes.
"It was a very vital trail and we're recreating it for both historical and tourism purposes," Wilson said.
Like the original section, the western portion of the trail begins in Fort Benton. It continues north across the border to the Fort Macleod barracks and Fort Whoop-up, near Lethbridge.
Wilson hopes Fort Calgary will join the project. Tens of thousands of people visit that fort and would be told about the Old Forts Trail, he said.
The Montana Department of Transportation will pay for four to six highway signs to mark the western half of the trail in Montana, said John Blacker, an MDT maintenance supervisor.
Bergren said the cost for the signs will be a little over $1,000.
Bergren and Wilson agree that Montana tourism is benefited by the inclusion of Canadian forts because they draw a lot of tourists who might want to continue south to Montana's forts. Bergren said MDT also may pay for a few signs in Canada, although that hasn't been decided yet.
If Montana does pay for a couple signs in Canada, it will be getting something back, Bergren said.
"They're advertising for us and vice versa," he said. "Those forts are in good shape and a lot of the trail has interesting information along the way. I think it was a great idea to expand it to include those other forts."
Locally, Fort Assinniboine's visitor season will kick off Sunday with an open house at the fort. Hourly tours will be offered from 1 to 5 p.m. on a horse-drawn touring wagon.
The expanded Old Forts Trail organizers will meet at Fort Macleod this summer so all the forts can coordinate their efforts at drawing in tourists and educating the public, Wilson said.