By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
When visitors come to Beaver Creek Park for a hike, many seek out the superintendent, Chad Edgar, and ask, "Where are the trails?"
Edgar points them to the old Beaver Creek Road, which a keen eye can make out in a small clearing behind Lions Campground.
With the help of Hill County Conservation District supervisor Conrad Nystrom and the Hill County Conservation District, that road may soon be the park's first official, fully marked and maintained nature trail.
For the time being, Nystrom suspects out-of-state visitors who don't meet up with Edgar end up following one of the park's many unofficial trails - the ones the cows make.
The Conservation District is working on a grant application to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to fund trail signs and informational markers, foot bridges and rest benches, for a nearly 3-mile trail.
Conservation District administrator Shannon Patterson said they are just beginning to write the grant, and have not yet settled on a price tag for the project. The signs, she said, will be the biggest expense.
The DNRC grant application is due May 1. With the momentum already behind the project, Patterson said she was disappointed to find out the application could not be reviewed sooner.
In the meantime, Patterson said, she's looking for other sources of grant funding.
As Nystrom plans the road's future, he also thinks about its past. He hopes in particular to install a sign that points out old wagon ruts still marking the old road.
The road was built by soldiers stationed at Fort Assinniboine, he said. The fort was one of the last military outposts set up to combat the Native Americans who were resisting Western encroachment.
Since then, ownership of the park has passed back and forth between the state and the county and in that time only one trail was built - the Mount Otis trail, constructed in the 1930s by the Civil Conservation Corps. People still use the trail, but it has no clear markings and the trail is not frequently maintained, he said.
Frequent park visitors already use the old Beaver Creek Road, Nystrom said.
"There's probably people that are going to be disappointed that we're making these things known," Nystrom said. "Well, it's a public park and we've got to share."
So far, Nystrom has been surprised at the support people have shown for his idea.
"We are behind it," said Hill County Park Board chair Steve Mariani. "They want to identify vegetation and flowers and make it a real trail - make it cool."
Nystrom hopes to involve 4-H and scouting organizations to help maintain the trail, and he'd like the Mountain Bluebird Trails organization to build one of the organization's birdhouse trails along the way.
"I just think a nice little trail that has plants and soils and rocks (information) and points of interest on signs is going to be interesting," he said.
Nystrom said he has also held an initial meeting with representatives from Rocky Boy to see if the reservation's Natural Resources Department would like to continue the trail onto the reservation side of the park.
The Hill County Conservation District nature trail committee has tentatively planned a tour of the proposed nature trail Sunday beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the Lions Campground.
The nature trail committee has scheduled the next trail meeting for 10 a.m. on March 9 at the Hill County Conservation District Office in the USDA building.