Supporters from several community organizations gathered in Lolo on Friday for the long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for the Lolo to Missoula walking and biking trail.

Jean Belangie-Nye, who received the County Parks and Trails Steward Award in 2014 for her efforts in spearheading the effort, said she has been waiting decades for this moment.

"My involvement started 25 years ago," Belangie-Nye said. "One my my students, Rachel, was hit up in front of the (Lolo) community center. We got the Highway 93 South pathway from Lolo to Hamilton out of that. Then, we started on this section, and it kind of died and then I got a call saying 'we're having a meeting on a trail from Lolo to Missoula, do you want to come?' I got elected chair, and it's been a 10 year battle."

photo by Peter Christian

Belangie-Nye described how the $4 million TIGER grant came about.

"Melinda Barnes from Bike-Walk Montana called Jenny Sullivan and said, 'You've got to apply for this TIGER grant," she said. "We had three weeks to get it written so DJ&A said they'd do it for $7,500. Then Jackie Corday, Jenny and I raised $7,500 in 45 minutes."

The trail will start with a bicycle-pedestrian overpass at Reserve which will connect the Bitterroot Branch to Old Highway 93. It will then run southwest along the northern side of Old Highway 93 to the intersection with Lower Miller Creek Road. It will cross the Bitterroot River on the west side of the Buckhouse Bridge. The trail will cross U.S. 93 at Blue Mountain Road and run south between U.S. 93 and the Montana Rail Link tracks towards Lolo. The trail will cross back to the west side of U.S. 93 at the intersection of Ridgeway Drive, connecting with the existing pathway in Lolo.

Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said construction will begin within a week, and conclude by the summer of 2016.