The Continental Divide Trail Coalition, a national nonprofit that works to protect the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, will officially name Anaconda a Continental Divide Trail Gateway Community on Saturday afternoon in Washoe Park.
Anaconda officials will ceremoniously sign a proclamation that identifies the city as a place friendly to CDT travelers and signifies the Smelter City as dedicated to protecting and preserving the 3,100-mile path that winds all the way from Canada to Mexico.
Anaconda will be only Montana’s second CDT Gateway Community.
“We’re really proud to be one of the gateway communities. It says a lot about Anaconda,” said Robin McKernan, chairperson for the Anaconda Trail Society. “It’s a dream.”
The Anaconda Trail Society is a grassroots nonprofit that formed about five years ago to raise money for and protect the trails in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County.
Those trails include three routes to the “Anaconda Cut Off,” an alternate path of the CDT, near Twin Lakes, Storm Lake, and in between Anaconda and Deer Lodge near Dry Cottonwood.
McKernan explained that the trail society noticed a lot of long-distance hikers and bikers making their way through Anaconda as part of the 3,100-mile CDT trek, which sparked the nonprofit to create an “adventure camp” in Washoe Park.
“There’s a study that shows these hikers spend about $77 a day in a community, so we wanted to capture that recreation dollar,” McKernan said.
The adventure camp, which is housed in a shed-like building, offers hikers passing through Anaconda a place to charge their cell phones and batteries, access free WiFi, borrow a bike, store their belongings, and share gear with other hikers, McKernan said.
There is also a network of local “trail angels” who drive hikers to one of the three cut-off trailheads, McKernan said. Some people even offer to house and feed the visitors.
To increase Anaconda’s status as a welcoming city to CDT hikers and bikers, McKernan said the Anaconda Trail Society and a handful of other locals applied for the CDT Gateway Community designation about a year ago.
Now that they’ve been approved to hold the title, McKernan said she believes the number of CDT travelers that pass through Anaconda will greatly increase.
“The economic impact is huge, but really we just opened our arms as a community to these hikers,” McKernan said. “That’s huge.”
But what exactly does it mean to be a Gateway Community?
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According to Amanda Wheelock, policy and communications manager for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Gateway Communities are towns and cities along the CDT that have shown interest in stewardship of the trail and are promoted as places for long-distance hikers to stay or visit while on their trek.
Wheelock said that after a town or city near the CDT has been designated a Gateway Community, it becomes part of a national network of over a dozen pro-CDT communities that the trail coalition promotes and supports.
Each town interested in becoming a gateway community must go through an application process to identify how close it is to the CDT and its alternate routes, what services it currently provides to trail recreationists, and what goals the town has for promoting both CDT stewardship and recreation, Wheelock said.
She also said interested towns or cities have to form a CDT Gateway Community committee comprised of various local stakeholders to help reach these identified goals.
For Anaconda, those goals include increasing the number of locals who access the CDT and educational resources on the trail’s various access points in the Smelter City area.
Wheelock said she’s excited to add Anaconda to the list of CDT gateway communities and hopes to continue to add more Montana towns and cities to the national network.
“We’re excited to celebrate a new chapter for Anaconda,” Wheelock said.
About 20 miles east, Butte is working to join Anaconda as a CDT Gateway Community.
According to Jocelyn Dodge, a recreation forester with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, the Butte Ranger District is filling out an application for the Gateway Community program and is already working to improve access to the CDT.
Dodge said work began in June to create a new trailhead to the CDT at Pipestone Pass. The trailhead will replace the current Pipestone Pass access point, which is a small turnout at the top of the Montana Highway 2 pass about 14 miles south of Butte.
Dodge said this new CDT access point will have a much larger parking area, greater traffic visibility, and sit about 1,000 feet east of the current trailhead.
“The current parking area is not large enough to accommodate the use we see there,” Dodge said.
The new Pipestone Pass trailhead is one of four CDT access points in the immediate Butte area and is set to open to the public in mid-October at the latest, Dodge said.
In the meantime, Dodge said the Butte Ranger District, its partners, and local area recreation groups will remain committed — like those in Anaconda — to protecting and maintaining the CDT trail.