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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ferry tale of a trail: Ferry County residents chip in for rail-trail project

When it comes to rail-trail projects, Ferry County is like the little engine that could.

Ten years ago the budget-challenged northeastern Washington county and its 7,500 mostly rural residents were offered, at no charge, a priceless rail corridor. Since then, a local citizens group has used a can-do attitude to acquire grants and donations to make giant leaps in developing the Ferry County Rail Trail.

As of last week, a volunteer effort finished another phase to resurface sections of the route that runs 28.5 miles from the U.S-Canada border to an existing trail at Republic, the county seat.

“We’ve resurfaced 5.5 miles of the trail along Curlew Lake and we just finished smoothing 3.2 miles from (the town of) Curlew north through the trestle along an incredibly beautiful stretch of the Kettle River,” said Keith Bell, trail resurfacing leader for the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners.

Other sections of the trail range from packed gravel suitable for walking and biking to rough ballast best ridden on a fat-tired bike. A portion of the route is a separately managed Golden Tiger Pathway out of Republic, which is paved and open to motorized use.

Bell, a retired mining company geologist, barely contained his excitement last week as he prepared to operate a loaned roller to pack a new surface layer on the trail near Curlew. “I can’t wait to see kids riding their bikes on this, “ he said, stomping and smoothing the imprint of a deer hoof on the still-soft material.

The rough ballast on the railway is being smoothed over with a crushed fine surface that’s 14 percent clay and packed.

“It’s hard, but it’s not pavement,” Bell said. “It will need to be maintained with a nail drag every so often, but it’s a lot less expensive than pavement, especially since a whole lot of this effort has been donated.”

Ferry County may be one of the poorest in the state, but it’s rich with expertise and equipment, he said.

Companies like Kinross Gold Corp, ACI Northwest trucking, Stotts Construction and the Gotham and Kidwell families donated equipment, trucks, drivers and the material to help match a federal grant for the resurfacing.

“We’re making this trail smooth for $3 a linear foot compared with $10 for similar projects,” Bell beamed. “That’s a good value for public dollars. I would put this project against anything in the country. It’s an especially big deal for our community to pull this off.”

Somewhat similar to North Idaho’s wildly popular paved Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, the Ferry County rail corridor includes attractions such as:

•Curlew Lake for a 6-mile stretch, past resorts and over a trestle across the north end.

•Curlew State Park, with access to camping, picnicking and fishing.

•Kettle River for a 10-mile stretch that includes a tunnel and access to a county campground.

•Town of Curlew, with food, services and a nifty swimming beach.

•Safe route for Curlew kids to avoid traffic while accessing their school.

•Town of Republic and full services at the trail’s south end.

•Link to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail out of Grand Forks, British Columbia.

The Curlew Lake stretch is the premier portion of the trail to date. The smooth surface runs from the Herron Road Trailhead north along the lake to the Kiwanis Road Trailhead, both accessed by SR 21.

This stretch goes across the trestle that was decked and opened for public use with the help of a grant and volunteers in 2015.

“We’re just a tiny little county competing for funds, but we’ve accomplished an amazing amount so far,” said Bobby Whittaker, a leader in the Rail Trail Partners for 10 years.

“The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy calls us the Bad News Bears of rail-trail grant proposers.”

The trail provides priceless public access to 11 miles of waterfront along Curlew Lake and the Kettle River that will be more valuable every day into the future, Whittaker said.