Source: Lewiston Morning Tribune
Author: Eric Barker
From rail to grail; Long-awaited Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes
http://www.lmtribune.com/08012004/northwes/196086.php 72 mile pavd path that stretches through scenic Panhandle is fast becoming a must-go for hikers and bikers COEUR D'ALENE â€“ A summer breeze rustles the leaves on black cottonwood trees growing along Chatcolet Lake. The wind sends small ripples across the water and keeps the late afternoon air cool. In a dusty, lakeside parking lot at Heyburn State Park, Virginia Bott and her husband, Don, of Spokane unload bicycles from a pickup truck and prepare for an evening spin along Lake Coeur d'Alene. "It's just gorgeous," says Virginia of this end of the 72-mile Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. The paved path follows the old Union Pacific Railroad grade that connects Plummer on the northern edge of the Palouse with Mullan at the head of the Silver Valley. The trail is the solution to what may have been the country's longest Superfund site. For years railroad cars carried mining ore to far-away smelters. During the trips the cars spilled bits and pieces of their loads, and eventually the rail bed became contaminated with heavy metals. When the rail line was abandoned in 1991, the federal government, state of Idaho and Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe decided the best way to contain the waste was to cap the old rail bed and convert the rails to a trail. Now people like the Botts flock here for scenery, for exercise and for pleasure. "I haven't ridden in a long time and I'm getting back into it because it's just so beautiful," says Bott as she and Don pedal toward the old Swing Bridge over the St. Joe River. They cross the bridge and the trestle that spans Round Lake and pedal along the path as it traces the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene. They are bound for Harrison, the small town near the mouth of the Coeur d'Alene River. Just after they depart, Cathy Gorchels of Pullman returns from her ride to Harrison. "I went a little farther than I am probably ready to do because it's so beautiful," she says. "This might be the prettiest bike trail in the entire world." Both the Botts and Gorchels have places closer to home to ride their bikes. There's the Centennial Trail that follows the Spokane River at Spokane. On the Palouse, the Gorchels could ride the Chipman Trail that connects Moscow and Pullman. But this trail seems to have something more. There are the lakes, some of the Northwest's most scenic. There is the wildlife -- the Botts have seen moose, blue herons, waterfowl and beavers. And there is wide range of vegetation, from ponderosa pines to blooming water lilies. "I think what is more impressive to us is the wildflowers," says Don Bott. Jon Lee and Paul Kim stop at the Swing Bridge to take in the view and to look at a nest full of young osprey that sits on top of the bridge. "It's pretty sweet," says Lee, who lives in Spokane. "It's one of the nicest trails I've ever been to," adds his brother-in-law, Paul Kim, who lives in the Central Valley of California. They, too, had peddled to Harrison, where they stopped for ice cream before turning around. The town, like many along the route, is experiencing a bit of a biking boom. With restaurants and watering holes like One Shot Charlie's and the Gate Way, Harrison has long been a favorite stop for boaters. Now it's just as common to see people in Lycra bike shorts as swimming suits as they walk around town, sit under the shade trees in city park or dine at sidewalk eateries. Business is brisk at Peddle Pushers, a bike and espresso shop on Harrison's Main Street. It's one of several places where people can rent bikes for the trail or stop in for emergency repairs. The shop opened a few years ago in anticipation of the traffic the trail would bring. Now, even on the hottest days, the bell on the shop's front door rings nonstop with people popping in. "I was surprised we rented out so many bikes yesterday," says Melody Cook, a mechanic at the shop. "It was 96 degrees." Cook spends a lot of time answering questions about the trail. Many of the queries come from people who wander into the store, but even more come from telephone calls. The trail and the shop were featured in the July issue of Sunset Magazine and ever since, Cook says, the shop has received about 10 calls per day. Steve Trayburn of Spokane found the shop on the Internet. He and his family spent a week sailboating on the lake and wanted to try the trail. Instead of trying to find a place to stow their bikes on board, they rented from Cook. On the day they rode the temperature reached the high 90s. "What a great trail," says Trayburn. "I was amazed how even the grade was. It was just effortless." Trayburn and his family peddled up the Coeur d'Alene River from Harrison. The state of Idaho manages the 56-mile stretch of trail from Harrison to Mullan. Along the way there are many trailheads, bathrooms and picnic areas. Most are at scenic spots such as the ones sprinkled along the chain of lakes between Harrison and Rose Lake. The beauty is tempered with ominous signs at trailheads. They warn riders to stay on the pavement and stop only in designated areas that have been cleaned of contamination. Although the rail bed has been capped, most of the pollutants are still present, even if they are contained. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe insisted the portion of the trail that runs through its reservation be cleaned of contaminants. The old rail bed there was excavated to a depth of 10 feet. Dean Chapman, manager of the trail for the tribe, says people who ride between Plummer and Harrison don't have to worry about contamination. "People can play on the banks and they can swim." Chapman says the trail is helping visitors learn about the tribe and perhaps change some preconceived notions about Indian reservations. "A lot of people have their views about reservations. But when they come and look they see hands-on that the tribe is doing a lot of good things, promoting a healthy lifestyle, protecting the environment and bringing people together." Biking has not been a popular pastime with tribal people, but Chapman says it's catching on. "Bike riding hasn't been big, but now that the trail is open people are saying 'Hey, let's get a bike, let's get roller blades.'"