The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes redevelopment project, located at 850 A St., Plummer, Idaho, had a primarly objective to remove a legacy of mining-related substances within an abandoned right-of-way (ROW), as well as contain any remaining hazardous substances beneath the engineered barrier, which serves as a recreational trail.
Another objective was managing the trail and any installed protective features such as oases, hostile vegetation, and signage. The resulting recreational bike trail begins in Plummer, Idaho and ends 73.2 miles in Mullan. The trail spans the entire northern panhandle of Idaho from the Washington to Montana state borders. The joint and separate ownership of the trail right of way was transferred to the state of Idaho and Tribe in January 2007.
Read about the specific project components that made the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes a winning project that garnered a nomination for a 2011 Renewal Award:
Unique project qualities:
The remedial action within the reservation resulted in near complete removal of contaminated substances that were remaining from the mining legacy in the Silver Valley of northern Idaho. The remedial actions outside of the Reservation resulted in partial removal of contaminated materials and capping in place of remaining contaminated materials creating an in place repository. The resulting asphalt paved trail/barrier is one of the longest dedicated continuous paved trails in the United States. The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes has seen an average of 25,000+ users since its development.
Primary funding sources:
Remediation actions and capping of the clean and contaminated sections of the ROW were funded primarily by Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) per the Consent Decree entered between UPRR, the State of Idaho, United States, and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. The funding sources for management of the Trail ROW and protective barrier are a mix of public and private; consisting of Tribal,State of Idaho, UPRR, and local funds.
Contaminants present on site:
The well documented contaminants present consisted of mine waste rock and tailings containing heavy metals used as bedding for the construction of the rail line. The ROW was also contaminated by ore concentrate spillage and by the fluvial deposition of contaminated materials within the flood plain where the largest majority of the ROW/Trail lies. The initial remediation action cost in excess of $50 million. The remediation actions involved capping of the ballast outside of the reservation, full removal of contaminated ballast and capping within the Reservation, excavation and removal of contaminated materials along the ROW, installation of vegetative and rock barriers adjacent to the ROW and the development of clean oases along the entire 73.2 miles of asphalt trail. In addition UPRR is responsible for future maintenance of the barrier.
Innovative environmental solutions implemented:
The concept of converting the contaminated ROW into a recreational trail was innovative in the sense that the Coeur d’Alene River floodplain would seasonally flood and re-contamination would forever occur. It made little sense to excavate and remove the contaminated ROW ballast that was nearly 6 feet deep by 20 feet wide and over 60 miles long adjacent to the Coeur d’Alene River. That level of removal would have increased cost immensely and a toxic floodplain would still remain, potentially re-contaminating a once clean ROW. Instead contaminants were capped in place, developing a regional repository and an unprecedented transportation and recreation corridor.
Innovative design/energy-efficient technologies implemented:
Throughout the 73.2 mile Trail, restrooms are located nearly every three miles. Each restroom is powered by a solar charging recharging battery system. Human waste is decomposed using a composting method.
Economic results in the local community are still being realized. An immediate economic upturn was witnessed in wayside communities immediately following completion of the Trail.
Initially, an environmental assessment was conducted to formalize and outline all project actions; it identified remedial actions and measurable endpoints. Before conducting any earth moving activities the entire ROW was extensively sampled to determine the extent of contamination. In addition to the entire ROW; sampling occurred in adjacent wetlands, siding areas, and identified spill locations. During construction all sidings and spill areas were excavated down below contaminated material and continuously sampled while work was being completed. Within the reservation, all contamination was removed; in places 6 feet deep of material was excavated and/or until sampling proved complete removal of contamination continued to occur.
From an environmental standpoint, the removal of contaminated materials below the ordinary low water mark of Coeur d’Alene Lake and River. The seasonal timing of removal was critical to ensure the
lowest water levels possible were forecasted and construction activities were scheduled for that timeframe.
Collaboration among stakeholders:
Close collaboration occurred between the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, State of Idaho, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Union Pacific Railroad. Private landowners located along the ROW were also critical to the success of the project. During construction activities, the “Agreement between the state of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe regarding transfer, ownership, and management of the Union Pacific Wallace-Mullan Branch right of way as the trail of the Coeur d’Alenes” was adopted by the State of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. The agreement consists of four sub-agreements that guide the governments on how to manage the Trail/ROW in the “single trail concept.” This ensures trail users enjoy the entire 73.2 miles in a seamless fashion.
Long-term economic benefits project delivered:
The Trail development resulted in several new trail management positions within the State and Tribe. With well over 25,000 documented trail users annually, many new businesses have thrived along the trail: Cycle shops, wayside restaurants and campgrounds, to name a few. Cities once reliant on mining now see a seasonal influx of business as a result of the trail.
Past and present employment:
Prior to remediation, the ROW was abandoned and remained contaminated. Very little, if no employment was resulting from the project site. Local businesses were utilized when possible to conduct many of the remediation activities such as survey and engineering services, supply of rock, and excavation activities. During construction and following completion several trail management positions were developed and still exist today. The state and Tribe both have full time trail managers as well as several seasonal employees involved in management of the trail. In addition there are many state and Tribe staff in support positions working part time on trail management.
How development improved human health/safety:
The trail has certainly improved the local human health. First and foremost the removal and/or capping of contaminated materials throughout a 73.2 mile corridor directly and positively improved public health of the surrounding communities. The resulting trail has provided communities along the ROW with an opportunity for outdoor recreation that did not previously exist. In excess of 20 community bike events occur on the trail annually such as the Multiple Sclerosis 150 Mile Bike Tour and 25,000 annually are recreating on the trail that were not prior to development.