Northern Idaho is recognized nationally for its rugged terrain and intrinsic beauty, qualities that have spawned such attractions as ski resorts, bicycle and snowmobile trails, scenic byways and historic/cultural sites.
If the four-year effort is successful, the National Park Service (NPS) would take residents of the region and visitors back into the Ice Age.
The Park Service completed, in 2001, a Special Resource Study that explored the concept of developing a regional trail system and interpretive centers to explain how the landscape was carved by Ice Age floods.
A coalition, with support from Congressional delegates in the Northwest, has proposed creation of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail that would extend from western Montana through the Idaho Panhandle into eastern and central Washington and to Oregon’s Willamette Valley (see map below).
Idaho Reps. Mike Simpson and C.L. “Butch” Otter formally endorse the legislation, along with Kathy McMorris, Jay Inslee, Brian Baird and Patty Murray of Washington and Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Darlene Hooley, David Wu and Gordon Smith, and Montana’s Dennis Rehberg.
The Senate approved the bill this week, despite opposition from the Park Service, which testified the project would be too costly. Developing the interpretive sites and acquiring land across the four-state corridor could cost between $8-12 million, according to Donald Murphy, deputy director of the Park Service. He estimated annual operation costs would be about $500,000.
Proponents emphasize the economic and educational impacts the trail would have.
“Such a trail would represent the largest, most systematic and most cooperative effort yet proposed to bring the dramatic story of the Ice Age floods to the public’s attention,” according to information on the Ice Age Floods Institute Web site.
“… this has the potential to bring significant economic and cultural benefits to communities throughout the Northwest.”
A collaborative effort and organizational structure can be assembled at a “remarkably low cost,” according to the organization's report. The network of trails could be developed on existing public land with no changes in jurisdiction.
A bill introduced in 2004 to formalize the trail system failed to gain Congressional approval. But a reincarnated version was introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings and Sen. Maria Cantwell (both of Washington) last January. The bills are designated H.R. 383 and House and S. 206.
If a joint bill is passed, Congress still would need to appropriate funds to conduct a formal study and determine management responsibilities and development.
For more information about the proposal, visit the Ice Age Floods Institute .