The Pulaski Tunnel Trail Restoration


Saddles and equipment at the entrance to Pulaski TunnelUntil 2003, the trail was lost in overgrowth and erosion. The only signs of its former existence were two historical markers placed at the trailhead. The Pulaski Project, a Shoshone County citizens group, was formed in October, 2002 to restore and develop the Pulaski Tunnel Trail. James See, a local teacher, guidance counselor, and history buff, launched the project and served as the Pulaski Project’s president. 

A cooperative arrangement between the U.S. Forest Service and the Pulaski Project was established to carry out the project. Larry Shepherd, Forest Service engineer, became its overall director.  Since 2003, the trail has been given new life. It has been cleared, graded, and where necessary, strengthened by durable engineering.  Five bridges, four boardwalks, and more than a dozen porcelain interpretive signs now provide hikers with a much enhanced historical and recreational experience.

Reconstruction of the Trail and the Pulaski Tunnel

Work began on the trail’s reconstruction in June, 2005. The first task was to secure the Pulaski Tunnel’s entrance with a bat gate, which barred visitor access but allowed bats to enter. Next, the trailhead bridge, a rugged 72-foot-long redwood structure - which, incidentally, was shipped in one piece from where it was manufactured in Valentine, Nebraska - was installed by a massive crane. The paved section of the trail required substantial below-surface engineering, which was the next stage of the project. 

 photo of a bat gate installed at the entrance to the Nicholson Mine   Photo of crane lowering bridge into place

Meantime, work also commenced on the creation of a parking area and restroom. A parallel endeavor developed the content and graphic design for the trail’s interpretive signage. Forest Service designer, Court Sims, and graphic artist, Grady Myers, were chiefly responsible for the development of interpretive signage. The Forest Service administered the project, substantially relying on grant funds secured by the Pulaski Project. 

Photo of trailhead wall installation

A joint resolution from the Idaho State Legislature, thanks to Mary Lou Shepherd, provided valuable symbolic support and statewide publicity for the project. A Missoula engineering firm, DJ&A, was responsible for the construction of trailhead facilities, the main bridge, and the trail’s initial paved segment.  Wesslen Construction, out of Spokane Valley, served as DJ&A’s chief subcontractor and was responsible for much of the trail’s hands-on engineering.  A local contractor and retired Forest Service employee, Dwight Clift, with his wife, Kay, did much of the trail’s actual construction and outfitting.

The clearing and grading of the trail’s two-mile course followed. Additional bridges, boardwalks, and gabions were installed sequentially up the trail. As the trail’s reconstruction neared the tunnel site, additional attention and energy had to be paid the outlook area and the Pulaski Tunnel itself. The first step in the process was an archaeological dig, carried out by the Northwest Archaeology Associates, assisted by Steve Matz, Forest Service archaeologist, and students from nearby Mullan High School. The outlook area was designed around a rock wall, the materials for which were painstakingly transported by 49 short helicopter flights from a staging area on Moon Pass Road to the outlook area. The wall was also outfitted with additional interpretive signage and a memorial plaque. Jeremy Oertli was the stonemason responsible for the outlook area’s construction. The adit itself posed a daunting interpretive and design challenge. 

Hal Payne, a local sculptor with boundless patience and care, hand-carved the burn pattern of the mine sets into fresh wood and then torched them for a burned-long-ago appearance. 

 Nicholson adit after 1910 FireHal Payne sculpting the new logs

Tunnel Adit

The trail's final significant development was the creation of the kiosk and trailhead sign, which were completed just in time for the centennial commemoration of the Big Burn in August, 2010.

Contributors to the Project

A great many institutions and individuals contributed to the Pulaski Tunnel Trail project. The project began with a seed grant from Shoshone County Commissioners. Next, a substantial grant was received from the U.S. Congress, in an effort spearheaded by Sen. Larry Craig. 

Significant funds were secured from a variety of other sources for an assortment of development tasks. Forest Service Region I headquarters provided funding for historical signage; the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation funded a number of important tasks; the Inland Northwest Community Foundation supplied crucial funding for the archaeological dig; and the Panhandle National Forests Resource Advisory Committee supplied two important grants for development projects. Tim and Sherry Gaines of Colorado, private donors, made a generous contribution to the project.   

Many significant contributions were also made to the trail in nonmonetary forms. Stimson Lumber, the Hecla Mining Company, and the East Shoshone County Water District provided land easements for the trail’s route. A substantial segment of the trail’s course and the adit site fall on property administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; BLM’s Coeur d’Alene office graciously entered into a  cooperative agreement with the Forest Service for the project’s execution.

Last but certainly not least, numerous local area citizens made significant contributions to the project. Pulaski Project board members, local engineering and mining specialists, members of community organizations, and the local press – just to name a few – helped the project along at crucial junctures.

The Pulaski Project continues to provide a nexus of community participation, contributions, and interest in The Pulaski Tunnel Trail.

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