Spring Fever Hits Great Falls, People Hit the Trails
It’s spring in Montana, the season of “hurry up and wait.” Whether we’re prepping to plant, hunting for sheds, or cleaning up around the house, most of us are taking advantage of every single nice day that we’re blessed with.
So last week, while spending a few days in Great Falls, I did what tons of other folks do on a sunny, spring day — I hit the River’s Edge Trail.
Great Falls — with its historic downtown, sweeping skies, and riverfront location — is a beautiful city. There are nearly 60 miles of trail connecting folks to the parks and paths along the banks of The Missouri. The trails are peppered with playgrounds, public art, picnic tables and pavilions, fishing spots and boat ramps, and stunning views.
On that sunny, March afternoon, there were young families getting some fresh air, friends walking their dogs after work, runners, walkers, and bikers.
Janet Christina and Emilio Vanni walk the trails together as much as they can. Janet is an artist. She’s been painting and drawing the scenes along the River’s Edge Trail for ages, until cataract surgery left her nearly blind last year. She can no longer make out the scenes and figures she used to draw, but she can paint the images in her head as she walks by memory and sound.
Emilio Vanni walked beside her. Recovering from a recent back surgery, Emilio uses the trails as a way to get out and move around. Emilio moved to Great Falls from Italy when he was fifteen, and he’s loved the city every since.
“I had the choice between Great Falls and San Francisco. I chose Great Falls, and I’m glad I chose it,” Emilio said.
Everyone along the River’s Edge Trail has their own story that connects them to the trail and to Montana’s open spaces. What’s yours?
Great Falls' Skyline
From the West Bank Park, the skyline of historic Great Falls rises above the Missouri River. The tower of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Passenger Depot predominantly stands above the rest of downtown.
Three friends take advantage of the sunny afternoon to walk their dogs around the 3.5 mile paved loop of the urban riverfront.
Trail maps like this one can be found along the River's Edge Trail. For an interactive map, visit thetrail.org. For a physical copy, pick one up at the Park & Recreation Department, the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, and many outdoor equipment stores.
Or if you need a broader idea of where you are, this is also helpful. Yellowstone National Park? It's that way!
No need to haul your own board games to the park, this checker board is a permanent fixture at the West Bank Park.
With many playgrounds like this one, the River's Edge Trail has something for all ages.
There are 18 public art pieces scattered throughout the trail system. So along with a free walk in the park, you get admission to a free outdoor art studio.
These signs shed light on the area's history, telling the story of the native tribes and western explorers who settled on the banks of the Missouri.
Janet Christina and Emilio Vanni walk the trail as much as possible.
The River's Edge Trail also highlights the city's public works. Here, the sign explains how the wastewater treatment facility works.
The riverfront is a hot spot for migrating birds, and a favorite place for bird watchers.
This piece of art, made by Alex Smithson in 2016, nicely frames the view of the Montana Refinery across the river.
A great place to grab a bite to eat in the summer.
The River's Edge Trail is a great bike trail. It's got great views, and you don't have to dodge traffic!
The Black Eagle Dam
Black Eagle is the westernmost falls on the Missouri. The first dam was constructed in 1890-92, and was rebuilt in 1926-27.
Many people run on the River's Edge Trail every day, rain or shine. It doesn't take long to get out of the city, and get lost in the wild landscape of the Missouri.
A throwback to the history of the railroad in this region.
Pacific Steel & Recycling Trailside Dog Park
This off-leash dog park has a fenced in space for big dogs, and a fenced in space for little dogs.
After school, the skate park is packed with young folks skating around, defying physics.
Even the path under the bridge is made beautiful.
A father and son pull off the road to cast a line or two at the end of the day.
Gibson Park has a bandstand, playground, duck pond, refreshments, gardens, and artwork.
The duck pond may be iced over, but that doesn't stop these birds from hanging around. They've got spring fever, too.
Vinegar Jones' Cabin
This cabin is only one remaining from 1884, when Great Falls was established. It now sits in Gibson Park.
Giant Springs State Park
All that explorin' got you thirsty? The trail eventually leads out past the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and into Giant Springs State Park. Giant Springs dumps 156 gallons of water per day from the Madison Aquifer into the Missouri.
Rainbow Falls and Dam
The trail also takes you out to Rainbow Falls and Dam, another one of the "Great Falls" that gave the city its name. Some of the singletrack trails start here.
This trail system sure is groundbreaking.
Use the navigation arrows on the right or left of the images to scroll through the pictures. Or sit back and relax, and the pictures will scroll through on their own after a few seconds.
Got something to say to Prairie Populist? Send news tips, story ideas and comments to [email protected]. If you have something to submit, or an idea for a story you’d like to write for us, check out our Submission Guidelines here.