Thursday's announcement that Billings was awarded an $11.6 million federal grant for infrastructure and trails construction resulted in smiles all around at Billings TrailNet.
Executive Director Kristi Drake said Friday the federal BUILD Grant means the long-desired Skyline Trail and the Inner Belt Loop will become a reality within the next three years.
"We're elated. It would have taken about 20 years to build the Skyline Trail, and now we can get it done in three years," said Drake. "It's incredible. Connecting the Heights to the West End is incredible too. We really needed not just the car infrastructure, but also the bike infrastructure so people can actually walk, run, and ride from the Heights to the West End."
Drake hopes construction on the new Skyline Trail from the Billings airport to Zimmerman Park along MT Highway 3 can begin as early as next summer.
"It's a shovel-ready project," explained Drake. "Engineering work on the Skyline Trail was completed within the past year, so I'm hopeful we can begin work in the summer of 2021."
The BUILD Grant does not contain funding for the planned Stagecoach Trail that will connect Rimrock Road to Zimmerman Park atop the Billings Rimrocks.
"We still need to raise about $4 million for that project, so we still have plenty of fundraising work to do," said Drake.
"Trails connect cities and neighborhoods," said Drake. "When you have to drive to get to a place and you can't just ride out the back door, that really makes a difference in where people choose to live."
Drake also pointed out that the Billings TrailNet system is open year-round, thanks to the hard work of the city's Recreation Department and Public Works.
Friday was also the day TrailNet's Ales for Trails fundraiser would have taken place.
Instead, Drake marked the occasion with her cargo bike to make a unique lunch delivery to the winner of last November's silent auction that helped raise money for local trails.
To make up for this year's Ales for Trails event that was canceled due to COVID-19, Billings TrailNet sold $50 brewery punch cards good for fill-ups at local breweries. The goal of this year's "virtual" Ales for Trails was to raise $120,000 for the Billings trail system.
The punch card sales ended Friday.