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Unused railroad spur to become trail

Coeur d’Alene is getting a new 5.2-mile public trail that will link the Centennial Trail and the town’s northwest neighborhoods, schools and the Kroc Community Center.

Lake City Development Corp., the city’s urban renewal agency, agreed Wednesday to loan the North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation $2.5 million to buy the abandoned Union Pacific Railroad spur, which runs north from the Riverstone Development along Northwest Boulevard through Ramsey Park before veering across the Rathdrum Prairie almost to Meyer Road.

The federal Surface Transportation Board recently gave the railroad approval to abandon the line, opening it up for sale. The deal is expected to close before year’s end.

The foundation then will begin designing the trail and raising money for construction, said Mike Gridley, the Coeur d’Alene city attorney and trail foundation vice chairman who helped broker the deal that has been in the works for nearly three years.

The foundation plans to seek money from adjoining property owners, developers and public entities that would benefit from the trail.

“It’s a huge deal,” Gridley said.

Construction on the first segment of the trail between Riverstone and Golf Course Road could start this summer. The following year, the foundation would extend it to Atlas Road so it will coincide with the grand opening of the $60 million Kroc Community Center.

“It’s really important for this community,” Mayor Sandi Bloem said. “It offers much more connectivity than what we’ve had.”

Union Pacific once used the short spur track, which was built in 1910 by the Spokane International Railroad Co., to haul lumber from the Stimson’s DeArmond mill to the main line that crosses the prairie between Spokane and Sandpoint.

The purchase of the tentatively named “Prairie Trail” is the first step in securing key property that’s part of the city’s dream for an education corridor.

For years, Coeur d’Alene officials have wanted to remove the BNSF Railway Co. tracks that run from the Stimson mill to Memorial Field. Once the mill closes, a portion of the BNSF rail line will revert to ownership by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Because of Wednesday’s deal, the trail foundation could swap the Union Pacific Prairie Trail for the BNSF line. The foundation would then hand over the BNSF trail to Lake City Development Corp., which needs the property to help plan the education corridor. That’s how the foundation plans to pay back LCDC for the $2.5 million loan, Gridley said.

The BLM would own the former Union Pacific corridor but allow Coeur d’Alene to manage the bike and pedestrian path. The education corridor would allow the University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College, Idaho State University and North Idaho College to offer classes in one location.

Bloem said the fate of the education corridor depends on the city and LCDC acquiring land in the area near City Park, North Idaho College and the mill.

Gridley said the trail foundation and LCDC were able to get a deal on the Union Pacific property, which was appraised at about $4 million. The railroad was willing to “bargain sale” the property for $2.5 million so it could get a tax deduction for donating the difference of the sale price, Gridley said.

LCDC Executive Director Tony Berns wasn’t available for comment Wednesday but in a press release praised the partnership with the trail foundation.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a trail that will provide recreation and alternative transportation for our community,” he said.