Bay Trail Ambitions Alive and Well
By Susan Drumheller

PONDERAY – Like a leisurely stroll along Lake Pend Oreille, progress on a Bay Trail connection to Ponderay may seem sometimes slow, and the destination far away, but the journey continues with purpose and appreciation for how far we’ve already come.

This past year has been a busy one for Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail and the City of Ponderay. The Friends, which is a non-profit organization supported by community donations and grants, hired Panhandle Area Council to assist the city with two federal grant applications for needed funds that would help finance a railroad underpass from the shoreline to downtown Ponderay and also to cleanup Black Rock, a local landmark that’s contaminated with historic mine waste.

Ponderay is a small city with a very limited budget. Despite the presence of major retail businesses in the town, only a tiny fraction of sales taxes come back to the city because of the state’s revenue sharing formula. Without large federal grants or other major funding sources, it will not be possible for the city to construct an underpass or cleanup the hazardous materials present on the shoreline.

The first grant application was to the highly competitive BUILD program under the federal Department of Transportation (DOT). The city requested funds for planning, design and engineering for a pedestrian underpass – large enough for emergency and maintenance vehicles – under the railroad tracks on property the city owns behind the Hoot Owl Restaurant.

The grant awards were announced in December, however, Ponderay was not among the recipients. The good news was that our project was ranked as “highly recommended” by the first tier of review – the DOT’s technical feasibility committee – and may have been the only planning project with such a high ranking, according to a DOT employee who debriefed the city and Friends in January. 

The application did not make it to the next level only because it was not for construction, and the Trump Administration chose to prioritize on-the-ground work. But the good news is, this administration is prioritizing rural projects, so our reviewer encouraged the city to try again. So, the city and the Friends are currently focused on steps necessary to clear the next hurdle, “project readiness,” and apply again, but this time for a construction grant.

A few hundred yards east of the proposed underpass along the shoreline trail is the metal gate, where the trail dead-ends. Some of that property beyond the gate is owned by the City of Ponderay and some is private. As a sign hanging on that gate explains, Black Rock and the surrounding area is contaminated by lead and other heavy metals from a historic smelter that operated briefly more than 100 years ago. In fact, Black Rock itself is not a natural formation, but actually a slag heap from those operations.

In January, the city applied for a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the property and make it safer for people to visit. We are still awaiting news on that grant, and if it’s successful, the hope is to eventually extend the trail further along the shoreline.

In the short term, this spring the Friends is organizing it’s Seventh Annual Bay Trail Fun Run. This is the Friends’ signature fundraising event, which not only supports our non-profit operations and pays for things like feasibility studies, but it also brings runners and walkers together to enjoy this spectacular trail. The Fun Run is scheduled for Sunday, June 9, and registration information will be on our website soon at

Also this year, we have plans near the Sandpoint trailhead to construct rock steps from the Humbird ruins through the jagged rip rap rock to the lakebed. In winter time, when the lake is drawn down, these steps will provide a safe way down to the sandy lake bottom. In summer, they’ll be a landing for swimmers and kayakers to get in and out of the water.

Rock steps are among several proposed trail amenities that are contained in the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail Master Trail and Interpretive Plan, which can also be accessed at our website,.

Donations can be made online to the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, and those funds are being used to make small improvements along the trail and leverage larger grants for more ambitious improvements that will enhance the quality of life for people in Bonner County.


Susan Drumheller is President of the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail.