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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hiawatha Trail Sets Attendance Record

From the Coeur d'Alene Press:

Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area announced a new Route of the Hiawatha record on Tuesday.

An unprecedented 12,766 bicyclists rode the famous rail-trail in July - a 12.7 percent increase over the same month last year, according to a press release.

"It's been really steady, and there haven't really been any off days," said Lookout spokesman Bill Jennings.

Last Saturday, for instance, nearly 1,000 cyclists explored the 15-mile route.

"Word's getting around," Jennings said. "What's interesting is seeing people from around the world. You hear lots of different accents. It's pretty cool."

Throughout the busy season, Jennings has encountered travelers from England, Scotland and Germany, he said.

The Route of the Hiawatha was inducted into the Rails to Trails Conservancy's Hall of Fame in April 2011. Winding through 10 tunnels and 7 high trestles, the gentle downhill grade traverses the rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana.

It's known as the "crown jewel" of the U.S. rail-to-trail system, the release said.

Lookout Pass operates the route in a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. A shuttle service operated by the ski area returns riders to the uphill trailhead.

"It's just a great opportunity for people who aren't used to getting up in the mountains to have a real easy way to do that," Jennings said. "A lot of the country that you see on the Hiawatha trail you would have to backpack for a couple of days to get to."

July 2011 revenues increased 11.3 percent over July 2010, the release noted.

Last year, more than 34,000 paid visitors rode bikes on the Route of the Hiawatha, a mark that could be surpassed by the time the trail closes on Oct. 2.

"Even though the cold, wet spring delayed our projected opening by about three weeks, we're on pace to break all the records our customers set in 2010," Lookout President and CEO Phil Edholm said in the release.

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