Unpublished correction: The name of Higgens Point is misspelled in this story. This information is from the Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation.
When two earthmovers and 660,000 cubic yards of dirt sank to the bottom of Lake Coeur d’Alene in 1990, there was an abrupt change in plans for a freeway interchange at Higgins Point.
Now Higgins Point is the crowning jewel of Coeur d’Alene Lake Parkway, a trail system under construction along the north shore.
To settle a lawsuit against it for the interchange mishap, the Idaho Department of Transportation agreed to spend $250,000 on an environmental engineer and a recreational trail along the abandoned highway.
Part of the money went into turning Higgins Point into a park. Plenty of other money has gone into improvements at Higgins Point and Lake Coeur d’Alene Drive, formerly Interstate 90.
The transportation department now is spending $732,000 to build the recreational trail from Potlatch Hill Road to the Higgins Point boat launch.
The investment is readily apparent to joggers, bicyclists, drivers and others who enjoy the winding, five-mile-long route along the lake shore.
“They’ve done a remarkable job,” said Dane Schumacher, a Post Falls resident who spent a recent afternoon bicycling along the shoreline.
Coeur d’Alene resident Alva Osburn was out walking Ohmar, his standard poodle, on the east end of the route.
“We come out here almost every day,” said Osburn, wearing a pile jacket to keep out the chill. “I’m real impressed. There’s no doubt about it. It’s going to be real popular.”
The trail will be one of a kind in Idaho.
“This is the first linear parkway we’ll be operating,” said Rick Cummins, north region manager of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Construction is expected to be finished in July.
“The response has been pretty well all positive,” said Tom Gill, project manager with the transportation department. “People using the trail when we’re working out there say, ‘Gee, this is great.”’
The trail begins at a large parking area just east of Potlatch Hill Road, where the Centennial Trail ends.
From there it separates from the roadway with a seven-foot wide ditch and cable rail - except where roads and driveways cross the path or parking areas push it closer to the shoreline.
The trail will be overlaid with smooth asphalt. It should be ideal for in-line skates, Cummins said.
From the trailhead to the Lake Steamers historical site, workers are installing 20 exercise stations with signs and equipment for stretching and strengthening.
At Beacon Point, workers built gravel trails to small tree-lined beaches on the rocky shore. The producers of the pilot television show “Amazing Grace” used one beach as a set.
Picnic tables, benches and nine toilets are scattered along the route. There won’t be trash barrels, however, because regular trash pickup is too expensive, Cummins said.
Parks department workers will maintain the trail, which will include litter control and night patrols.
Overnight camping will not be allowed. That rule stems from a series of meetings held three years ago on how to develop the abandoned highway.
The top choice of those who attended the meetings was the extension of the Centennial Trail. The second choice was a boat ramp.
The public got both.
The Higgins Point boat launch, parking area and trails were constructed last year. The parks department must rebuild the boat launch, because it enters the water at a dangerous angle.
That job may not be done until next year, however, because the lake level is expected to remain too high this summer for the concrete work.
Maintenance of the parkway is expected to be about $90,000 annually. After 1996, the parks department has no guaranteed source of funding for it.
“Our hope is that the public likes what we do well enough that they ask for state park funding through the Legislature,” Cummins said.
ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos; Graphic: “Coeur d’Alene Lake Parkway under construction”
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