Sanders County Ledger - Your Best Source For Sanders County News

By Ed Moreth 

Group finishes historical walking trail

 

September 24, 2020

Ed Moreth

OUTDOOR HISTORY CLASS – Don Stamm (left) and John Thorson attach a metal panel about Paradise Elementary to its stand as part of the Paradise Center Walking Trail.

Volunteers finished erecting an historical sign exhibit for the Paradise Center Walking Trail at the Paradise Center last week.

John and Karen Thorson and Don Stamm spent just over three hours last Wednesday putting up the metal signs along the 1,100-foot long paved trail, which encircles the center playground and the old schoolhouse. 

"When the center is closed people can still get sense of history of the place and the natural environment of the area," said Karen Thorson, a member of the Paradise Elementary School Preservation Committee who shares the secretary position with John. The Paradise Center, which serves as a community center, arts center and visitor's center, is normally open to the public from late spring to the end of summer, though it was not open this year because of the coronavirus.

The Paradise Center Walking Trail includes 15 interpretive panels that cover the history of Paradise, the railroad in Paradise and in northwest Montana. The 16X24 panels are filled with nearly 70 color and black and white photographs and several graphics, along with information about a myriad of subjects in and around the area, including the 110-year-old schoolhouse that closed its doors in 2013 and is now the Paradise Center.

The panels feature local history, Native Americans of the area, Glacial Lake Missoula, and give some insight about the flora and geology of the region. There's even one that describes the 33-foot cylinder fire escape that was installed at the school in the 1930s. "It's one of the panels because people don't know what it is; they look at it and think it's something for fun," said Karen Thorson, who is among the group of people who were behind creating the center in 2016. She said they plan to erect another sign to explain the center and its function.

The entire project cost less than $3,000. The stands and panels were each sponsored by an individual, family or a nonprofit organization. Sponsor names were placed on the panel they sponsored. Thorson said the county provided the recycled asphalt, which was graded and paved by Jim Hawley and Dave Colyer of Paradise and George Crabtree of Plains. Doug Bratz of Paradise loaned his tractor for the trail work. Each sign was bolted onto a 32-inch tall steel frame, which had been erected in a cement block compliments of the First Lutheran Church in Plains. The panels were set up in a row from 16-60 feet apart and were situated at a 20-degree angle for easy reading. In addition, the interpretive trail is ADA compliant. Bridger Bischoff, owner of Rock Solid in Paradise, donated several large boulders so people could get a close-up look and feel of the type of geology in the area.

Plans for the Paradise Center Walking Trail started formulating in January by the Walking Trail Planning Committee, which includes the Thorsons, Stamm, Colyer, Marc Childress, Mark Madrid, and Kathy Abarr. The Thorsons wrote the panels' text, which they passed on to different "experts" for review. Each panel sponsor also had the opportunity to look it over, said Karen Thorson, who added they had to do a lot of Internet research for the material. 

Plans are in the making for a mini roundhouse to be built at the Paradise Center Walking Trail, where items too large to be placed inside the center will be housed, including a railroad velocipede, which had been used by the night watchman at the Paradise tie plant. The velocipede, which ran on a narrow rail, was donated by Charles Oelschlager, who worked at the tie plant, according to Colyer, also a former railroad employee and who is collecting railroad items for the Paradise Center and the mini roundhouse. He also has a fire hose cart, a hand-pulled mail wagon, and telegraph cross members with glass insulators, all from the Northern Pacific Railroad, along with an old railroad hand truck. The roundhouse will have five stalls and in the middle stall will be picnic tables and benches for people to sit at.

Thorson said they're working on writing a $5,000 grant for blueprints for the roundhouse. Once they get plans, they plan to apply for a grant to build the structure. 

The Paradise Center is routinely a venue for musical performances, plays, meetings, and art classes. The center has a large Glacial Lake Missoula exhibit and is in the process of constructing a 26-foot long railroad display that depicts the town and railroad from 1907 to 1970. A portion of one room was set up like a traditional Paradise Elementary School classroom. The school closed its doors seven years ago because of a lack of students. Sanders County owns the property, but leases it to the preservation committee, a nonprofit organization, for one dollar a year. The Paradise Elementary School Preservation Committee has put more than $350,000 into the center through contributions, donations and grants since taking the reigns. In addition, more than 30 volunteers and the 10 board members have put in hundreds of hours of work on the center and grounds. The board is working on two other grant projects. John Thorson applied for a private grant of $120,000 to replace the 1930s heating system. He also sent an application in for $154,000 with the Montana Historic Preservation Grant Program for an elevator for the main building in an effort to make the center more ADA compliant. He said they probably won't know the results until next year. 

The center is also looking for volunteers for next year. Plans are for the center to be open four days a week next spring. People can also get tours on request. Anyone interested in volunteering or getting a tour can leave a message at the center at 826-5003.

 

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