By JERRY HITCHCOCK
Who says you can’t go home again?
In fact that is just what I did recently. There was a large family reunion to attend in central Montana, and of course I was bringing a bike along for exercise, so I did a little research to find options on where to ride.
Lewistown is situated right in the middle of Big Sky Country (Montana’s longtime nickname). I spent my youth about a half hour away from town, but I spent the majority of my high school weekend nights cruising the main drag.
Now, some 30 years later, the town seems a bit smaller, and there is much less traffic, but the exercise opportunities have actually increased.
There is a full-service fitness center in the middle of town. Better yet, a new trail system has been developed on land previously owned by a defunct railroad line.
Conveniently, the trail ran alongside our hotel, the Yogo Inn, just to the north of downtown.
I got up early on a Saturday morning and clipped into my pedals, eager to see the town from a different perspective than I had decades before.
The trail wanders through neighborhoods and the recently-restored Frog Ponds near the south end of town. The ponds were apparently in disrepair for decades, but thanks to a project to remove decades of sediment, the new ponds are now home to trout, stocked annually.
The trail consists of 25 miles of paved and gravel segments, with other routes in the works. Walkers of all ages and young mothers pushing strollers while they jogged dotted the trail as I cruised around, arriving at crossing streets that brought back many happy memories.
Finally, I came to a very familiar street and realized that I was mere blocks away from my grandparents’ house, where my father grew up. I had to take a detour and ride up the significant hill and see how the current owners were managing the place.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the house with a nice fresh coat of paint, its three round columns on the front porch highlighting its colonial style. The house always looked so majestic to me, and it held no less allure now. I put a foot down from my bike, looked up at the second-floor window where father’s bedroom once was, remembering the view from high above, that he must have enjoyed a thousand times over the years.
The sight had energized me, and I got back underway and joined the trail as it looped back to the Northwest and crossed Main Street, before meandering though more neighborhoods.
I was still in tourist mode, studying property to my left and right, when I noticed some activity a block ahead of me on the trail. Lucky for me, that activity stopped in the trail, and I coasted slowly toward a mule deer doe and two fawns, who had just gorged themselves at a garden near the trail. I snapped a few shots and pedaled toward them, and they quickly scampered up a steep hill and headed south, toward fields of grass for shelter, security and privacy.
It wasn’t the first wildlife encounter of the trip, either. I had seen a deer and fawn by bushes near the Frog Ponds, and a few varieties of birds on the trees by the water’s edge, either looking for or ingesting a meal.
I continued on, and soon I was on the boundary of the Lewistown Cemetery, where my father was laid to rest in 2005. I had to stop and pay my respects, and hopefully he would approve of my healthy lifestyle and mode of transportation.
I soon said goodbye to dad and cut over to streets near Highland Park Elementary, scouting out the route of a future trail extension. I used to play basketball at the outdoor hoops at Highland Park during the summer, and the schoolyard had not changed a bit in all those years. I crossed the highway and headed north on Joyland Road, to the point where the future trail leaves its edge and will loosely follow Spring Creek back toward town and reconnect a dozen blocks from the Yogo Inn.
Lewistown is not flat, and I couldn’t resist the chance to climb some hills on the way back to the hotel. I tried to climb the steepest ones I could find, then swung around and descended on the adjacent street. After a half hour of this, it was time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the reunion.
From an entertainment standpoint, the Lewistown Trail System will keep you busy for a few hours. There are spurs (Brewery Flats and the Charles M. Russell Interpretive Trail) on the south end, for those who really want to cover some ground, or trek to a new portion on a different day.
Picnic tables and benches have been erected, and the wildlife seems almost accepting of the fact that humans share their domain.
If you find yourself in the area, be sure to stop in and take advantage of the chance to unwind, take in a little nature and breathe that pure Montana air.
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Jerry Hitchcock can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2017, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at HitchTheWriter.