Sunday, September 26, 2021
77.0°F

A trail runs through it: Kalispell on track to complete Parkline Trail this year

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | January 31, 2021 12:00 AM

It’s the end of the line for the old railroad tracks in downtown Kalispell.

By the end of the year, city officials foresee the decommissioned railroad line transformed into a multi-use pedestrian path — to be known as the Parkline Trail — dotted with businesses of every stripe. A vision 10 years in the making is finally on track to be realized.

“We’re getting close,” Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson said at a City Council work session last week. “This is kind of some of the last things that we need to do as a council for this big project.”

Known as Kalispell’s Core Area, the immediate environs around the defunct rail line don’t look like much to the casual observer. That’s because the past decade of progress on the trail corridor has largely concentrated on the immaterial necessities of the redevelopment plan: acquiring the right of way to use the railroad, environmental assessments of the neighboring properties and design work for converting the 2.6-mile stretch of railroad tracks into a trail.

TALKS ABOUT redeveloping the rail corridor have been underway since around 2010 among the Kalispell City Council, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and Flathead County Economic Development Authority.

In 2012 the dream was cemented with the adoption of the Kalispell Core Area Plan. In 2015, the Montana Department of Transportation awarded the project a $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant for transportation infrastructure and development of the Glacier Rail Park where the remaining commercial rail users were relocated.

This year, walkers, joggers and bikers are expected to recreate on the path for the first time.

“Certainly from a development perspective things are falling into line,” said Lorraine Clarno, the new president of the Kalispell Chamber. “It’s a very exciting time for Kalispell.”

THE CITY plans to go out to bid yet this winter to find a contractor for removing the tracks and installing the actual trail. At its most recent work session on Jan. 25, the City Council reviewed regulations that likely will go into place for the Parkline Trail once the new path receives designation as a city park.

The trail will be subject to some of the same restrictions present in other city parks, such as a ban on alcoholic beverages, but it will be open later to facilitate travel, commerce and community. The area just west of Main Street, near the new Sunrift Restaurant, will close at 2 a.m. The path itself will be open to users 24/7, as long as the council votes to adopt a draft ordinance agreeing to those terms at its Feb. 16 meeting.

At the work session, the council also reviewed the proposed logo for the trail.

Elma and George Giavasis, members of the Trail Identity Subcommittee and co-owners of Highline Design Company LL., worked pro-bono to create a design for the Parkline Trail’s signage. The council was generally supportive of their proposal, which is intended to look “fresh, modern and minimalistic.”

“We wanted to create a brand that felt extremely unique within the context of the Flathead Valley,” Elma Giavasis said of the logo design. “We really felt this was an opportunity for Kalispell to become a little bit more of that urban center for the valley.”

Once finalized, different iterations of the logo will adorn signs along the trail. The signage will be part of the overall environment of the linear park, along with proposed additions such as a Splash Pad water feature and historic locomotive engine.

THE RECENT progress extends far beyond the physical trail.

The multi-faceted project always was intended as a catalyst for reshaping the city into a 21st century community. To do that, it’s been necessary to relocate the industrial infrastructure that iconized Kalispell’s history but kept the city nailed to the past.

The most salient aspect of that change is the CHS grain silos on Center Street.

Last year the Flathead County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) took over the towering structures, which date back more than 100 years, and then agreed to a buy-sell agreement with local developer Mick Ruis.

“The grain elevators are not coming down,” noted Jerry Meerkatz, FCEDA president and CEO.

They might not be staying just the way they are now, though. Crews recently removed the highly visible, but temporary, art installation that was put in place in the fall to stop graffiti atop the silos.

Although Ruis’ specific plans for the silos are still under wraps, Meerkatz said “Mick Ruis has some great ideas and thoughts for what he wants to do with that, but he definitely wants to keep those [the silos].”

MEERKATZ IS also proud to announce that Glacier Rail Park, the city’s new home for former rail users, is now completely full. Northern Plastics, CHS and Northwest Drywall officially have claimed all of the spaces in the new industrial park, opening up the Core Area for redevelopment.

That, too, is moving right along. According to the Kalispell Core and Rail website, there are 45 acres of “redevelopment potential” along the trail. Plenty of redevelopment plans are already in place: all three former CHS locations are now under contract and expected to be turned into mixed-use developments once environmental cleanup is completed.

“Those are anchor developments that we know will attract and draw a lot more smaller developments to fill in along the way and incentivize property owners along the trail to start reinvesting,” said Clarno with the Chamber.

She’s so confident in the progress being made on the existing redevelopment plan, in fact, that she and her collaborators throughout the city already are turning their sights to “Phase 2.0.”

With the goal of continuing to increase the vibrancy of downtown Kalispell, the next stage in redevelopment will look at ideas such as expanding the rail park, drawing traffic from the Core Area down Main Street and examining the future of the Kalispell Center Mall.

Even though the project has crossed the threshold of 10 years of planning, Clarno said now is no time for Kalispell’s key players to sit back and admire their handiwork.

“It’s a dynamic time,” she said. “It’s going to be fun to see. I think residents and visitors are going to benefit tremendously.”

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

photo

The proposed logo for the Kalispell Parkline Trail, designed by Highline Design Company LLC.

photo

Passengers in rail cars tour a stretch of train tracks that will be removed for the future Kalispell Parkline Trail on Thursday, June 7, 2018. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Two workers with Olympus Technical Services, of Helena, begin to remove material atop the former CHS grain elevators along West Center Street in Kalispell on Friday, Jan. 15. The site, now owned by the Flathead County Economic Development Authority, is being completely cleared except for the six grain elevators to spur development along the future Kalispell Parkline Trail. The structure atop the grain elevators, which was recently painted by local artist Thomas Valencia, is also being removed. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Passengers in rail cars tour a stretch of train tracks that will be removed for the future Kalispell Trail on Thursday, June 7, 2018. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Workers with Olympus Technical Services, of Helena, break up concrete and clear debris from the former CHS site along West Center Street in Kalispell on Friday, Jan. 15. The site, now owned by the Flathead County Economic Development Authority, is being completely cleared except for the six former grain elevators to spur development along the future Kalispell Parkline Trail. The structure atop the grain elevators, which was recently painted by local artist Thomas Valencia, is also being removed. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Artist Thomas Valencia spray-paints a colorful train to cover up graffiti atop the grain silos at the former CHS site in Kalispell on Sunday, Oct. 11. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Passengers in rail cars tour a stretch of train tracks that will be removed for the future Kalispell Parkline Trail on Thursday, June 7, 2018. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)