A vision to link Red Lodge to a ridge of prominent limestone outcrops west of town known as the Palisades became reality this week.
On Monday, Beartooth District ranger Traute Parrie signed off on construction of the Palisades Trail, which will connect the north edge of federally owned land at the end of Fox Lane to the Palisades Campground and Willow Creek Trail to the south. Construction on the trail would start this summer.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Tom Kohley, who helped craft the city’s comprehensive trails plan, which first formally described the idea of the route in 2006.
“We’ve been waiting for this for quite a while,” said Grant Barnard, president of the Beartooth Recreational Trails Association. “It will be a great connector.”
By linking the trail to Fox Lane at the north and Palisades Campground Road to the south, the route becomes a 7.7-mile city-to-mountain loop for mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders. Both are dirt roads with little traffic, Kohley said.
“There are a lot of horsemen in that area that will be happy with that,” Barnard said.
The access at Fox Lane opens up the possibility for additional routes along the Beartooth Face all the way to Red Lodge Creek, the next drainage over. Expanding routes like the Palisades Trail would lessen foot traffic on the area’s wilderness trails, Barnard pointed out.
The Palisades Trail complements another trail from Red Lodge to Custer National Forest about 3 miles south of town called the Face of the Mountain, completed in 2011. In town, the BRTA and city have cooperated on the construction of 3 miles of the Airport Alley Trail, a paved route.
“That’s been a major accomplishment,” Barnard said.
“In pieces, it’s all coming together,” Kohley noted.
About 2.5 miles of trail will connect Fox Lane to the Palisades Campground, running parallel to the forest’s eastern boundary as it climbs from 5,900 feet at Fox Lane to 6,600 feet along the north flank of the ridge, providing views back toward Red Lodge and along the southern face of the Beartooth Mountains. Only three-quarters of a mile of new trail will be built. The rest will make use of existing trail.
The cost is expected to be minimized by using volunteers to clear and construct the trail, as well as the Montana Conservation Corps, which is funded by grant money received by the Beartooth Recreational Trails Association.
There will be a trail head kiosk and minimal parking at the end of Fox Lane, a county road that abuts the forest boundary. The Palisades Campground has parking, an outhouse and six camping sites. It is located along Willow Creek, just below Ski Run Road, which accesses Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area. The Willow Creek Trail runs from the campground upstream to the northwest about 4 miles at a moderate incline. The trail was improved by a Montana Conservation Corps crew in 2006.
The Forest Service plans to close the Palisades Trail and surrounding 937 acres along the Beartooth Face to dogs from Dec. 1 to July 1 to protect wintering moose as well as moose during the calving season.