Our pri­vate Idaho

Se­cluded Weiser River Trail pro­vides slow, serene es­cape

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Anne Wal­lace Allen

NEW MEAD­OWS, Idaho — No mat­ter how speed­ily things are mov­ing in the out­side world, the pace is slow and steady on cen­tral Idaho’s Weiser River Trail, a con­verted rail bed that runs 137 kilo­me­tres be­tween two small towns in one of this state’s most beau­ti­ful ar­eas.

The trail takes trav­ellers through for­est, or­chards, ranch­land, and then, in the south­ern por­tion, through spec­tac­u­lar sage­brush canyons with black lava cliffs.

I rode the trail with my fam­ily, start­ing at the up­per end, about 600 me­tres above the end­point in Weiser. (It would be all up­hill if you went in the other di­rec­tion.)

The Pa­cific & Idaho North­ern rail­road com­pany (P&IN) blazed the trail through the land­scape around the turn of the 19th cen­tury, reach­ing the small town of Coun­cil in 1901, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent his­tory of the area by Dale Fisk, the edi­tor of the lo­cal Adams County Record news­pa­per.

The rail­road was built to take trav­ellers be­tween the city of Boise and the four small towns of Weiser, Mid­vale, Coun­cil and Cam­bridge. It car­ried Gold Rush for­tune-hun­ters up to the moun­tains, and took cop­per ore from the moun­tain’s mines back to the city.

Things are a lit­tle qui­eter around the trail th­ese days. Union Pa­cific deeded the right-of-way to the non-profit group Friends of the Weiser River Trail in Au­gust 1997, and the Friends have worked hard to main­tain the rail bed for run­ners, walk­ers, hun­ters and bik­ers.

Signs of re­cent bear traf­fic are ev­ery­where. When we trav­elled the wide, graded path last fall, we ran into few other hu­mans — just a quar­tet of bowhunters on bi­cy­cles who were scop­ing out the ter­ri­tory, and some ap­ple-pick­ers check­ing out the har­vest. Friends who rode it in late Septem­ber met cow­boys herd­ing cat­tle down the trail.

Start­ing at the up­per end of the trail, the trail gets off to an un­pre­pos­sess­ing start on an un­marked dirt road just off High­way 95 near the small town of New Mead­ows. It quickly en­ters the woods, pass­ing over streams on ex­quis­ite tres­tle bridges that have been re­made for bi­cy­clists. The trail passes by the Ta­ma­rack Lum­ber Mill and its colos­sal log yard be­fore head­ing away from the road.

Rid­ing the Weiser River Trail is serene, but it isn’t easy. The Friends group uses a me­chan­i­cal roller to flat­ten the ter­rain, but they can’t pave it; not only do they not have the money, but some of their most fer­vent sup­port­ers ride horses on it. So for bik­ers, the ter­rain is packed dirt, soft enough to slow progress, and is oc­ca­sion­ally stud­ded with rocks. Cat­tle gates cause fre­quent stops.

But the beauty and sur­prises of trav­el­ling so far from roads more than make up for the labour of rid­ing the bumps. Around Fruit­vale, the trail was lined with over­loaded ap­ple trees. A lo­cal man who was col­lect­ing ap­ples told us the trees were from Fruit­vale’s days as a mi­nor or­chard area.

The trail also passes un­ex­pect­edly through a tidy wa­ter-bot­tling op­er­a­tion housed in stone build­ings and owned by the gro­cery store chain Whole Foods. This is the un­her­alded his­toric site known as Starkey Hot Springs, a busi­ness es­tab­lished a cen­tury ago by a den­tist who in­stalled a geo­ther­mal-heated swim­ming pool still used by lo­cals. Whole Foods pur­chased the springs in 2013 and restarted the wa­ter-bot­tling, pro­vid­ing a needed in­fu­sion of jobs in tiny Coun­cil.

For recre­ational bi­cy­clists like our three-gen­er­a­tion group, rid­ing the trail is a two-day af­fair. There are U.S. For­est Ser­vice and other camp­grounds avail­able for overnights. One, at the trail’s Wye trail­head near the north­ern­most point, pro­vides a hand pump and two horse cor­rals. We chose Mundo Hot Springs be­cause it was just north of the town of Cam­bridge, about half­way along the trail, and be­cause it has a large geo­ther­mal swim­ming pool where we could grate­fully soak af­ter our day on the trail.

The en­tic­ing thing about the Weiser River Trail is it trav­els to places few peo­ple ever get to see, through river val­leys that look al­most un­touched by hu­mans, through cat­tle pas­tures where the an­i­mals and green trees ap­pear re­cently washed by the rain. It also runs deep into Owyhee canyon­lands, through miles of road­less area where birds of prey, elk, mule deer and bear shel­ter. If you have time to stop and fish the Weiser for a while, all the bet­ter.

ANNE WAL­LACE ALLEN / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cy­cling on one of many bi­cy­cle bridges on the Weiser River Trail in cen­tral Idaho.

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