While winter may have descended upon our Confluence property, there are big changes afoot under the snow!
Last year, Five Valleys was awarded a $90,000 grant from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parksʼ Recreational Trails Program, to improve universal access across the west side of the Confluence. This award, as well as the donors who gave to our Montana Forever campaign, kickstarted a vision long in the works: the Confluence Gateway Initiative.
The Confluence Gateway Initiative builds upon over a decade of momentum at the Confluence, focusing our efforts to create a community open space that is welcoming and accessible to all. The aims of the Confluence Gateway Initiative are to:
• Expand and enhance the property's universal trail network for people of all abilities.
• Build an accessible wetland observation platform.
• Share the story of the Confluence through more interpretive signs and solar audio posts.
• Preserve historic Pete's Cabin for educational uses.
Already this exciting effort is well underway. The expanded trail network will be anchored by the new Confluence Gateway Trail, which replaces the existing trail that has welcomed thousands of visitors since 2017. Over the years, our partners and hundreds of volunteers have helped maintain and develop the existing trail. Yet, portions of it remained difficult to traverse for some visitors, especially those who use wheelchairs, walkers, or strollers.
The Confluence Gateway Trail project will bring the existing trail up to universal design standards. Renovations include widening the trail and improving the trail bed and surface materials. In a number of locations, the trail will also be rerouted or elevated to create a more universally approachable grade. In addition to improving safety and accessibility, the project will also enhance sustainability, making the trail easier to maintain.
“The universally designed trail at the Rock Creek Confluence is unique compared to trails around the region and our beautiful State. These trails provide an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to experience nature without barriers. It has been rewarding to work on trail projects with such a wonderful organization like Five Valleys Land Trust who strives to increase access to the outdoors for everyone,” says Brenden Dalin, Independent Living and Recreation Specialist with Summit Independent Living.
Dalin is no stranger to the project: Since 2018, when he was a Recreation Management student at the University of Montana, Dalin has provided technical input and oversight of trail projects at the Confluence. Five Valleys contracted with Dalin and Summit Independent Living to supervise the Confluence Gateway Trail project, which is being constructed by Wild Rockies Landscaping.
Along the trail route, Peteʼs Cabin has also seen some big changes. Over the last year, the Friends of Upper Rock Creek Historic District made great headway in rehabilitating Pete's Cabin. The Friends spent two weeks replacing the cabinʼs roof and many of its structural logs, using trees from the Confluence itself. The entire cabin was also jacked off the ground and leveled. This spring, the Friends will replace the sill logs, reframe the windows, widen the door, and level the floor. Once complete, Pete's Cabin will be a safe place for visitors and school groups – and provide a sheltered place to wait out a Montana hailstorm! We are grateful to the Friends for volunteering their time to preserve this amazing slice of living history.
In the years to come, the Confluence Gateway Initiative will provide a roadmap for developing an accessible trail loop around the wetland and further expanding the property's trail network, building a new, accessible wetland observation platform, expanding educational interpretation, and more. Thanks to support from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, we purchased additional solar audio posts last year to help share the story of the Confluence with those who are blind or have low vision, or those wanting to experience the Confluence's story in a whole new way. We are currently working with a professional audio describer and the Séliš - Qlʼispé Culture Committee to translate our existing interpretive signs into an audio format that will be available on the audio posts along the trail route, as well as the Five Valleys website.
Thanks to our community's continued support, 2024 is going to be a big year at the Rock Creek Confluence. Stay tuned!