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Ice Age Floods Geological Trail

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27 March 2002

When the Purcell Glacier, slipping down from Canada, goosed the Clark Fork River with a thumb of ice, a 400,000 cubic acre lake was formed. The ice plug periodically weakened, allowing the captured waters to explode forth, gouging Lake Pend Oreille, scouring Eastern Washington and depositing topsoil in the Willamette valley. Considered one of the world’s biggest catastrophic events, these floods are studied worldwide.

    For several years, plans have been made to develop roadside informational signs to identify the flood scars along the pathway of the raging waters. The Ice Age Floods National Geological Trail will stretch from Gold Creek, east of Missoula to Portland, Oregon. The six-hundred-mile long trail will be on state highways in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

    The pathway of the floods, crossing state lines, covering regions of BLM, USFS, state-held public lands, and tribal lands intermixed with private property, is immense. The National Park Service has been given the responsibility to co-ordinate the project between the various jurisdictions.

    Opponents of the Ice Age Floods trail are concerned that the trail will encroach on private property. At a meeting in Plains, Montana on March 14 over a hundred people, including disgruntled snowmobilers and conspiracy theorists, came to protest National Park Service involvement in this multi-state trail.

    Proponents counter with the information that no private property will be involved and furthermore any public lands involved will need public approval. They believe the trail has the potential to increase tourism.

    Many people have confused the Ice Age Floods Trail with the proposed AVISTA hiking trail. The AVISTA trail might extend from Thompson Falls to Cabinet Gorge and is in the initial planning stage. For more information about the Ice Age Floods, contact www.nps.gov/iceagefloods/. For more information about the AVISTA trial, contact Brian Burkey 847-2729.


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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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