Exploring The Basin: The Trail of the Coeur d’Alene’s
The Coeur d’Alene Basin, land of the Schitsu’umsh people or the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, has always been considered a beautiful place and a not-so hidden gem. One of the attractions of our area is the beautiful Trail of the Coeur d’Alene’s. This asphalted trail covers 73 miles and is a longtime favorite of bikers everywhere.
In addition to its recreational reputation and popularity, this trail has a unique history. It’s common knowledge that this area has a lot of history tied up in the mining industry, but our environment felt the impacts as well. When silver was discovered in 1884, the construction of a railway began to improve supply chains as well as assist the logging and mining industries. The bed of the railway was built using mine waste rock containing heavy metals and was further contaminated by ore spills.
Acknowledging the danger of the mine waste contamination, the Union Pacific Railroad, the U.S. Government, the State of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe worked to clean up the area under the Rails to Trails act of 1983. The project consisted of capping the contaminated areas off with asphalt, creating a 73-mile-long recreational area.
Due to nature of the project, it is asked that you stay on the paved path and designated areas. Rebecca Stevens, Restoration Coordinator for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, describes the path as a “clean ribbon through a contaminated valley”. If you’re feeling the urge to explore off the beaten path, there are 20 designated trailheads spanning the paved trail. Just make sure not to explore beyond the hiking trails as many miles of the land beyond trail corridors are privately owned.
Along the trail’s meandering, are a shining beacon of successfully finished restoration projects. While the Trail serves as a successful story for environmental restoration, land along the path houses projects that are actively a part of improving the health of the water and land. Many of the marshes and wetlands lining the path are centers of remediation and restoration due to the recontamination potential from high water events depositing historic mine waste pollution along the floodplain. This had a huge impact on waterfowl in the area and many birds died as a result. The Environmental Protection Agency and Restoration Partnership have been able to work with landowners to secure land into Conservation Easements to restore previous agricultural lands into wetland complexes to help control and filter run off, improve water quality, and create clean feeding habitat for migratory waterfowl.
While the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene’s was a huge success for the ongoing basin cleanup, there remains heavy metal contamination along the river the path follows. Lead and other heavy metals are abundant in the sediment making up the beds of the Coeur d’Alene River. Signs posted along the river warn of the health risk associated with heavy metal contamination, and the warnings should be heeded. The historic mining in our area may have caused an economic boom, but we are still dealing with the consequences today.
Let the trail of the Coeur d’Alene’s serve as a sign of hope for environmental restoration, but also as a reminder of the harm that has been caused and to never repeat our mistakes.
University of Idaho is offering local teachers a professional development credit to participate in a Silver Valley bike tour on a portion of the trail of the Coeur d’Alene’s on Oct. 7.