AARP grant aids KLT trail construction

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)Kaniksu Land Trust officials gather with Lupe Wissel, state director of AARP Idaho, for a presentation of a $5,000 grant from the organization. Pictured, from left, are Regan Plumb, KLT conservation director; Ross Longhini, KLT trails and recreation committees chair; Katie Egland Cox, KLT executive director; Cami Murray, KLT outreach and development coordinator; Lupe Wissel; and Jim Zuberbuhler, KLT board president.

SANDPOINT — The Pine Street Woods are another step closer to trails accessible to everyone thanks to a $5,000 AARP Community Challenge grant.

The funds were presented to Kaniksu Land Trust officials Monday by Lupe Wissel, AARP Idaho state director.

One of four projects selected in Idaho, the grant will help build a half-mile loop trail in the Pine Street Woods with seating to support community members who may have mobility issues.

“What made it interesting for us is the fact that, yes you’ve got all these plans but then you also put some thought into how can we make this beautiful area accessible to the older population and the folks that may have mobility challenges,” Lupe Wissel, AARP state director, told KLT officials in presenting them with the grant.

In selecting projects to fund with the grants, Wissel said AARP officials looked at different ideas and livability.

“It’s different ideas and looking at livability, it’s also the parks and transportation,” she said. “That’s huge when we’re talking about aging, people to have the ability to actually to live and experience and enjoy what’s available, so this just seemed like the perfect project to fund.”

Work on the Pine Street Woods will begin in earnest after Camp Kaniksu and “things are quiet in here,” roughly the second week in August said Katie Egland Cox, KLT executive director.

Crews and volunteers will then begin work on trails and the planned recreation center — roughly 1,900 square feet between the center, storage area and space to house equipment and grooming equipment for planned Nordic trails. A grand opening of the PSW is slated to take place Sept. 21.

While everything won’t be complete, enough will be done where the community can come explore the woods and have fun in the outdoors, Cox said.

“We literally have people itching, literally at the gates. ‘When? When?’” she added. “Especially for the trails, we want to give people access and let them run on the trails, walk on the trails, be up here.”

What is exciting about the property is the potential to create recreation opportunities for all sports — from Nordic skiing to hiking to mountain biking and to create access for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced, said Ross Longhini, chair of the land trust’s trails and recreation committees.

“When this property came to be available, we were really excited because it has enough flat, with some rolling terrain that we can accommodate different activity levels,” Longhini said. “But also, more importantly, our ski season in the valley can be really short to non-existent sometimes.

The Pine Street Woods property is 500 feet higher in elevation and it holds the snow much longer than nearby Sandpoint, yet it is just minutes away.

“One of the things we struggle with, broadly I would say in North Idaho, is we have a fantastic network of advanced and expert but we have very little at the beginner or intermediate terrain. Very little,” he added. “And that’s why we’re so excited about this. This can have something for everyone.”

Land trust officials have been working toward the Pine Street Woods project as far back as 2012, receiving its first grant for the project in 2014. A campaign to purchase the land and begin improvements, such as a newly completed roadway and parking area suitable for school buses, began in earnest in 2016.

“The public became aware of it in 2017, really, and so what’s interesting is in two years time — we just executed the purchase March 22, so we’ve only owned this since March 22 — the public has only been aware of it since two years ago and there’s still a lot of people who … don’t know,” said KLT board president Jim Zuberbuhler. “And yet there’s a huge percentage of our population that’s so excited about it and from their point of view, they’ve had a brief window.”

One of the biggest drivers behind the property’s purchase was the chance to provide outdoor education, not only to local school children but adults and those with modality challenges, Zuberbuhler said.

“We’re a very low income area, we have a very high percentage of our kids who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program,” he said. “Those children, most of them, we just learned this recently through a study, that over 70 percent of them don’t do any outdoor activities in the winter and over 50 percent spend no appreciable time outside at all. We want to help with that. And a lot of that is access. Access means a lot of different things to people. A lot of people are afraid to spend time outside, an animal is going to get me. A lot of them don’t know where to go, a lot of them lack transportation, and a lot of our wilderness here is hard to get to and a lot of the trails are steep and difficult like Ross and Katie emphasized.”

The hope, land trust officials said, is to be able to work with Selkirk Pend Oreille Transit officials as well as local senior groups to offer programs for the entire community. And that strong community support, Zuberbuhler said has already allowed the group to accomplish all that it has — and helps them stretch donations far more than other communities might be able to.

Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at clobsinger@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.

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