Trails

In this section:

Billings Chamber/CVB Trails Initiative

The goal of the Billings Chamber/CVB trail initiative is to develop our trail system for the economic and healthy community benefits that result from active transportation (to work and school and for leisure). This strategic priority was initiated July 1, 2009 by the Chamber/CVB Board of Directors. Long term objectives include three critical elements:

1) Connect The Marathon Loop (A 26.11-mile continuous off street paved trail around Billings. Click here to view a map of the loop.). Secondary Focus: Heights Loop; Vital Spokes: Downtown to River; Billings Bench Water Association (The Ditch);

2) Support the maintenance of existing trails;

3) Trail system must include directional and interpretative signage and trail amenities starting with Swords Rimrock Park as the model.

The Chamber CVB is proud to work with many partners and fellow trail enthusiasts in the community, among them: BikeNet and Yellowstone River Parks Association. Click here to see the Go Play! map, a comprehensive Billings trail map. To join our Trails Committee click here.

Swords Rimrock Park

The Swords Rimrock Park Trails project was completed in two phases. The first section was constructed in 2005, using $35,000 in RTP funds and the second section was completed in 2011, using $28,000 in RTP funds, which were matched in both cases by additional funds from a number of different sources and programs.

The ten-foot-wide, hard-surface, multi-use, ADA-accessible pathway runs through the entire length of the City-owned park that is located along the top of the Rimrocks, a geologic formation. The trail is approximately 4.5 miles in length and serves user groups of all ages including bikers, walkers, joggers, skaters, strollers, the physically challenged, and individuals riding in wheelchairs or using adaptive bikes.

The Swords Rimrock Park Trail provides a link to the bike/pedestrian underpasses that have been placed under 27th Street, Airport Road and Alkali Creek Road as part of a recent reconstruction project servicing Airport Road.

With this trail and the underpasses in place, it links to the trails in the Heights along Aronson Road, and Alkali Creek Road and, with one more trail link, will provide a connection to the Main Street Underpass and the trails through Earl Guss Park up to subdivisions in the Heights and down to the Yellowstone River, thus connecting the riverfront to the Rims, which are two beautiful natural resources in the Billings community.

The Swords Rimrock Park Trail provides cultural and natural resource interpretation along the corridor as there are many unique and historically significant features along the Rimrocks. The Swords Rimrock Park master plan identifies sites along the trail with historic and natural resource information, including the large sandstone and beehive rock formations of the Rimrocks, to educate users and add to their experience.

The Swords Rimrock Park Trail has included interpretive signage to enhance the trail user’s experience and provide educational and historical information along the route. Through the construction of the trail, the environment has been refurbished and the land has been re-contoured, as it had previously been misused. Now with increased usage of the trail, more people are the “eyes and ears” to help protect the area. New life has come to the park as the wildflowers and other vegetation have been restored, which also protects the wildlife.

Learn more about efforts related Swords Rimrock Park – watch the video!

Take a closer look at all the Swords Rimrock Park has to offer – view a comprehensive map here.

Trailhead Entry Project

This project raised funds to develop an entryway into the Billings trail system at the center of Swords Rimrock Park.  Many contributing individuals and organizations made this first step a big success.

$62,500 raised for the trailhead project to include:

  • Rock Monument Signage
  • Restroom
  • Donor Recognition
  • Information Kiosk
  • Drinking Fountain
  • Bike Rack

The Billings Chamber/CVB would like to extend a sincere “Thank You!” to the Billings Rotary Club for holding A Night at the Northern and donating the funds raised to this worthy cause.

 

Yellowstone Kelly Gravesite Restoration

Who is buried in Yellowstone Kelly’s tomb?  Hint:  Not Ulysses S. Grant.  Where is Yellowstone Kelly’s tomb?  Hint:  It is not a tomb, just an inauspicious concrete crypt in Swords Rimrock Park overlooking downtown Billings.  To get there, drive to the trailhead east of the airport and then walk or drive one mile along the the Rims toward MetraPark.  The gravesite is on the Heritage Trail, 23 miles of paved paths that snake through Billings.  The Billings Chamber is a key player in developing this trail system that benefits residents and helps attract businesses and tourists.

Unfortunately, the neglected Yellowstone Kelly gravesite is an embarrassment to our community and the memory of the veteran buried there.  If properly redeveloped, this historic monument could become a must-see destination along the Heritage Trail system.  For these reasons the Chamber decided to make the renovation of the gravesite a top priority.

Luther Sage Kelly was one of the most famous, and fascinating, characters to ever call Montana home.  In 1959 Warner Brothers released a movie based on his life, and at least four novels were written about his exploits. Born in upstate New York to prosperous parents, young Kelly might have become a businessman had not fate and the Civil War intervened.  In 1865 Kelly lied about his age and joined the Union Army, just in time to see the war end.  He found himself assigned to a remote fort in Dakota Territory and it was there that this athletic teenager discovered his love for solitude and the West.  When older soldiers refused to carry mail between outposts fearing attack by Sioux warriors, Kelly volunteered. Kelly wandered the river valleys looking for game and hostile Indians.

When his enlistment expired in 1868, Kelly, still a teenager, walked west to explore the region between the Upper Missouri and the Yellowstone, earning a reputation for courage, intelligence and the sobriquet “Yellowstone Kelly.”  This was uncharted, dangerous country, and Kelly had more than his share of close-calls working as an army scout, wolfer, trader, and guide.  He maintained respectful relations with the numerous Indian tribes that traversed the region.

Kelly gained national attention after the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.  Kelly was the lead scout for Nelson Miles, the army colonel tasked with the job of locating Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gall, and other Sioux and Cheyenne chiefs and returning them to their reservations.  In 1878 Kelly and Miles chased Chief Joseph and his followers during their epic trek across four states until the Nez Perce surrendered in the Bear Paw Mountains.

Kelly eventually married and became a rancher and government clerk.  In 1898 he explored southern Alaska and escorted 538 Scandinavian reindeer and 113 Lapland herders to rescue destitute miners.  On another trip to Alaska he guided naturalists John Muir and John Burroughs.  In 1899 Kelly distinguished himself fighting insurrectionists in the Philippines, where he remained as an administrator.  Kelly was a friend of Teddy Roosevelt and a member of his “tennis cabinet.”  Later Kelly supervised the Apache reservation in San Carlos, Arizona.

Kelly wanted to be buried in Montana, so on June 26, 1929 he was laid to rest with full military honors overlooking the Yellowstone Valley after an impressive funeral procession organized by the Commercial Club, predecessor of the Billings Chamber.  In the words of Kelly’s biographer, “If destiny ever decreed a fitting locale for one man’s final resting place, surely this spot was meant for Yellowstone Kelly.”

The above is authored by Bill Cole, chairman of the Chamber Trails Committee. If you would like to get involved with the restoration of Yellowstone Kelly’s gravesite contact Bill at bcole@colefirm.com or John Brewer, Chamber President/CEO, at john@billingschamber.com. For more information on Yellowstone Kelly, read The Life of Yellowstone Kelly by Jerry Keenan (2006, New Mexico Press).

Contribute

Are you interested in donating to the cause? Click here to learn more. If you’d like to  contribute to Swords Rimrock Park and the Yellowstone Kelly Gravesite Restoration project, click here to e-mail John Brewer.

Chamber/CVB Trails Projects

View the Trail Asset Management Plan.

Read the National Transportation Enhancements article by John Brewer.

Our Partners in Progress

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