Daines co-sponsors bill to complete Continental Divide Trail

Source: Helena Independent Record

The Continental Divide Trail could finally be completed before it turns 50 years old. 

A bill introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) would direct land management agencies to prioritize the elimination of gaps in the 3,100-mile continent-spanning path that generally follows the geographic Continental Divide. The trail is 95% complete, according to the Golden, Colorado-based nonprofit Continental Divide Trail Coalition, which lauded the bill on Friday. 

Heinrich introduced S. 4995, the Continental Divide Trail Completion Act, into the Senate on Wednesday, according to Congress’ official website. Daines is an original co-sponsor of the bill. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The text of the bill was not available Friday, but a bill with the same name was introduced into the House on Aug. 27, 2021. That bill, HR 5118, directed the Secretary of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, to “substantially complete the land acquisition program necessary to ensure the completion of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail” by Nov. 10, 2028, the 50th anniversary of the trail. The new Senate bill also aims to complete the trail by that date.

The Continental Divide Trail, technically named the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, runs from Canada to Mexico, and spans Montana from the Canadian border on the north to the Idaho border on the south. As many as 14 gaps ranging from less than 1 mile to nearly 50 miles interrupt the trail’s path along the Rocky Mountains. 

In Montana, the trail is interrupted by a 0.75-mile gap near Cadotte Pass northeast of Lincoln, a 5.7-mile gap along Interstate 15 near Elk Park north of Butte, a 9-mile gap along the interstate south of Butte, a 1.4-mile gap near Wise River, and a 10.5-mile gap near Monida Pass. 

“By filling in the gap sections,” Teresa Martinez, the coalition’s executive director stated, “the CDT will not only become a safer and more accessible experience for all trail travelers, but this mandate for completion will also help to ensure that the original promise made by Congress 44 years ago, of a continuous footpath offering a remote, natural experience from Mexico to Canada along the Divide, becomes a reality.”

In the coalition’s announcement of the bill Friday, Visit Helena Executive Director Andrea Opitz noted that hikers and cyclists generate $4.3 million in economic activity annually. 

In all, the trail traverses five states, 20 national forests, 25 wilderness areas, three national parks, one national monument, and 19 designated “gateway communities,” according to the coalition.