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People on foot or bike in north Bozeman will soon have a path to the trails in the foothills along Bridger Canyon.

The city announced Thursday that construction has begun on the long-awaited path linking town to the “M,” the most-used trail in the Gallatin National Forest, and Drinking Horse Mountain.

The work will create a roughly 2.2-mile path along Bridger Drive from Story Mill Road. Other than a safe way for hikers to get to the mountains without a vehicle, the hope is the project will ease parking at the popular trailheads.

“This project has been years in the making,” said Mitchell Overton, Bozeman Parks and Recreation director. “The community and all our local partners have been incredibly supportive as we’ve gone through the process. We are excited to see it come to life.”

The project is the result of a collage of people working together, which includes local and federal government alongside private land easement agreements and nonprofits.

Gallatin Valley Land Trust founder Chris Boyd began the push for a trail system linking people in town to the mountains in the 1990s, before access to public lands was a hot cause. Today, Bozeman’s Main Street to the Mountains trail system includes more than 60 miles of trails connecting parks and neighborhoods.

GVLT Executive Director Penelope Pierce said this next phase will fulfill a major piece of Boyd’s vision.

“A trail from the library all the way to the Bridgers, the M Trail, and to the mountains to the south with the Painted Hills Trails,” she said. “There has always been that gap along Bringer Canyon Drive; we have been trying to figure that piece of the puzzle out for 29 years.”

The nonprofit and city worked together to apply for a 2013 Federal Lands Access Program grant for the project, which Bozeman matched with funding through the Bozeman Trails, Open Space and Parks bond.

The existing system crosses Montana Highway 86 at Story Mill Road, the starting point of the Path to the M project. The new section will run along the south side of Bridger Drive to the end of the Headlands subdivision. It will cross to the north side of the road at Creekwood Drive and weave into existing trails in the Creekwood subdivision before it extends to the trailheads. A pedestrian underpass will offer access to Drinking Horse Trail.

The path will also link Story Mill Community Park — a 60-acre park set to open this summer — to the Story Mill spur and the East Gallatin Recreation Area.

Construction on the path is due to end this fall. Once the trail is complete, the city will be in charge of its upkeep.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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