The Billings trail system has come a long way in 15 years.
As a result, bicyclists, joggers and walkers now can go a long way on 36 miles of multipurpose trails and more than 17 miles of bike lanes.
Long stretches of paved trail dedicated to off-street biking, running and walking nearly encircle the city, with work progressing on connecting sections.
In January, an important segment of the system was dedicated that eventually will connect the east end of Swords Park Trail along the Rims to trails that go all the way to Mystic Park along the Yellowstone River and up to Mary Street in the Heights.
This summer, a short multipurpose link was completed from Zimmerman Trail east along Broadwater Avenue to the Descro Park Trail. Not only does it connect more than five miles of trails, it gives students at nearby Will James Middle School easier access to safer routes to school.
Improvements aren’t done yet.
By next summer, a bridge that can be used by pedestrians and bicyclists over the downtown railroad tracks at 25th Street should be finished, said Darlene Tussing, trails consultant to the city-county planning department.
Also in the works is completing a short stretch that will link Swords Park trail to Heights paths.
The multipurpose trail system started in the mid-1990s to create paths for children to walk and bike safely off the streets, said Scott Walker, transportation planner for the city of Billings.
Now many adults use the trails, too.
Many consider the paved path along Swords Park on the top of the Rimrocks as Billings’ premier trail. Winding through the High Plains landscape, the trail looks out over the wide Yellowstone River Valley below.
Some get to Swords Park from the Zimmerman Trail to the west along dirt trails below Highway 3.
Another favorite are the trails through wooded Norm’s Island and around Lake Josephine in Riverfront Park south of town.
The reconstruction of Shiloh Road added a multipurpose trail from Rimrock Road to ZooMontana.
The longest trail in the interior of town winds about four miles through mostly residential areas from near Grand Avenue and 24th Street West south to near the intersection of King Avenue and South 24th Street West.
Trails and lanes aren’t used just for recreation.
Nash Emrich bikes seven miles round trip to work mostly on bike lanes along Poly Drive and North 30th Street to downtown where he works at High Plains Architecture.
Emrich is president of BikeNet, a nonprofit organization that raises money that match federal funds to build new trails.