HELENA — Heading off the beaten path is almost like a right of passage in Montana. With no shortage of scenic hikes and mountain peaks, Big Sky Country is arguably one of the best places for hiking.
But for the Continental Divide Trail, a 3,100-mile trek stretching from the northern border to the southern border, Montana only plays a part as the trail snakes through Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
In Montana, the trail runs through scenic areas like Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Deer Lodge National Forest with communities like Anaconda, Helena, Lincoln, and Butte serving as gateway communities where hikers can stop for a spell to rest their legs, round up supplies and take care of any business before hitting the trail for the next leg.
In a sense, the CDT is similar to the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, with all three being designated as National Scenic Trails by the U.S. Forest Service. These trails traverse various states and provide hikers and backpackers sights and sounds heard only by those who make the journey.
But according to L. Fisher of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, the CDT is a bit different than the other two trails.
"Those are trails that really go through really tight urban environments. There's already a lot of established trails in those areas, a lot of communities that they go through. The CDT is really unique in that we are a ridgeline trail, and we're one of the most remote experiences that you're going to find on a National Scenic Trail," said Fisher. "So in terms of working on the trail, and getting people out to it, that's one of the biggest hurdles — it is in this remote area, in these small rural communities."
Though it is a hurdle, said Fisher, the work being done to the CDT by federal and private organizations, as well as local communities and land partners, is nearing completion with about 95% of the trail being blazed and marked off for adventurers to make their way through. However, the goal of 100% completion is what the CDT Coalition hopes to see before the trail's 50th birthday with the CDT Completion Act.
"We've had a lot of great work that's getting done and we're close to 95% complete on the trail. But of the big three, we are the least complete but we're nearing completion and hope to get that completed in the next decade," said Fisher. "What that looks like, is working really closely alongside our federal agency partners; the Forest Service, the BLM, and the National Park Service, who we have a memorandum of understanding with as the lead private partner in this work."