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In typical Montana fashion, cyclists rode on fat snow tires Saturday to try out a new pathway that connects Bozeman trails to the Bridger Mountains.

A few inches had accumulated by the time a small crowd gathered to celebrate the trail opening with a ribbon cutting. The project is roughly 30 years in the making and joins the Main Street to the Mountains trail system. Gallatin Valley Land Trust founder Chris Boyd began advocating for such a system in the 1990s.

The 2.1-mile paved pathway weaves from the Story Mill Community Park, which opened in July, to the ‘M’ and Drinking Horse trails, passing through a 108-foot-long concrete underpass that allows trail users to bypass Bridger Canyon Drive.

Penelope Pierce, executive director of Gallatin Valley Land Trust, spoke to the crowd at the ribbon cutting ceremony. She said the Bozeman nonprofit has had a clear vision of what the trail system could look like.

“Today, that dream is a reality,” Pierce said.

In 2012, Bozeman voters passed a $15 million bond for trails, open space and parks that resulted in $675,000 going toward the new pathway.

The entire project cost about $4 million, which came from a mix of public and private money.

The city bond money matched and was leveraged with a $3.4 million grant from the Federal Lands Access Program, part of the Federal Highway Administration. The Collin’s Coalition and the Gallatin Valley Land Trust also contributed money.

Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl said at the ceremony that for each dollar the city contributed, $5 came from other sources. Mehl said the path was made possible through partnerships between the financial contributors, the Montana Department of Transportation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Forest Service and Gallatin County.

Dotty Ballantyne was on Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s board when the project officially began back in 2012. She said that the need for a pathway was apparent because people were using narrow Bridger Canyon Drive as a trail.

“We live on Jackson Creek Drive so we drive past bikers and walkers and runners. I’m so happy this is done, because I lived in fear of someone getting hurt,” Ballantyne said.

City manager Andrea Surratt said the new pathway, along with the entire Main Street to the Mountains trail system, make Bozeman unique.

“This community leads nationally in understanding that transportation is not just for the cars driving by — it’s for the dogs, the children, the runners and all of us who want to go somewhere without getting in our cars,” Surratt said.

In a Friday interview, Bozeman parks and recreation director Mitch Overton said two property owners rejected previous proposals to have the pathway run through their land. The Montana Department of Transportation saw that there was a gap for transportation in the area, and allowed the trail to be built on its right-of-way along the road.

The city was able to secure a few conservation easements from private property owners to build the path. Overton said the whole project was a “significant endeavor,” and took vision from the organizations involved and from voters.

“In a few years, this path will feel very common and sort of like a no-brainer to folks in the community — now it’s new and shiny. I think people will really see the benefit of this in short-order,” Overton said.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at or at 406-582-2607. Follow her on Twitter @shay_ragar.

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