Daines co-sponsors bill to complete Continental Divide Trail

The Continental Divide Trail could finally be finished before its 50th birthday.

A bill introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) would direct land management agencies to prioritize closing gaps in the Continental Path of 3 100 miles which generally follows the geographic continental divide. The trail is 95% complete, according to the Golden, Colo.-based nonprofit Continental Divide Trail Coalition, which welcomed the bill on Friday.

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

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Continental Divide Trail Coalition

The text of the bill was not available on Friday, but a bill of the same name was introduced in the House on August 27, 2021. That bill, HR5118, directed the Secretary of Agriculture, who 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 November October 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 called the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, stretches from Montana from the Canadian border in the north to the Idaho border in the south. No less than 14 gaps ranging from less than 1 mile to almost 50 miles interrupt the path of the trail along the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico.

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 highway south of Butte, a 1.4-mile gap near Wise River, and a 10.5-mile gap near Monida Pass.

“By closing the gaps,” said Teresa Martinez, the coalition’s executive director, “not only will CDT become a safer and more accessible experience for all travelers, but this completion mandate will also help ensure that the initial promise made by Congress 44 years ago, of a continuous trail providing a remote and natural experience from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide, is becoming a reality.”

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

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

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