A new mile-long, 10-foot-wide paved trail along Broadwater Avenue couldn’t have come at a better time for students at Will James Middle School.
Because Billings middle school students were re-zoned leading up to last week’s opening of Ben Steele Middle School, bus service for most Will James students has been eliminated, Principal Kim Verschoot Smidt said Tuesday. That's because many more students now live three miles or less from school, the School District 2 minimum for riding a bus.
She expects even more students to start getting to school and back home via their bicycle, rather than seeking the traditional ride from a parent or older sibling.
“That trail,” she said, “is a great avenue for our kids."
Trails officials and bicycle enthusiasts celebrated the Broadwater Avenue Multi-Use Path opening Tuesday afternoon with a ribbon-cutting. Will James Middle School sixth-grader Rhiana Scherry was one of a half-dozen or so bicyclists to pause to witness the official ribbon snipping and speech-making on her way home from school.
Scherry said she often rides her bicycle to school and appreciates now having a safer path to and from school.
“I don’t want to get run over,” she said with a grin.
Total project cost for the trail, paid for with Montana Transportation Alternatives and Montana Department of Transportation funds, was about $421,000. The new path extends an existing trail at 32nd Street West down to Shiloh Road.
It also connects a pair of existing trails — one along Zimmerman Trail north of Broadwater, and the other along Shiloh Road, also north of Broadwater. All told, those three trails are now about five miles long.
Calling trails “important to a vibrant community,” Kristi Drake, executive director of Billings TrailNet, said the new trail segment —and others to come — will help “as we ask new talent to come to our community. But we’re also nurturing the existing talent — these kids.”
“I’m very pleased to see students using the trail,” said Billings Mayor Tom Hanel. “I’m glad it’s there for your safety.”
Mayoral candidate Bill Cole, former chair of the Billings Chamber of Commerce Trails Committee, said a survey taken recently as part of the city’s master plan for parks indicates trails are the “single most popular form of recreational infrastructure for the entire city — because trails rock. They’re good for health, good for transportation and they’re just good clean fun. This is an exciting day.”