Good stuff at Harriman’s free day

A fat biker catches up with a trio of cross-country skiers on the trail in Harriman State Park on Saturday. (Jerry Painter photo)

Like many people, I am attracted by the prospect of getting something for “free.” So last Saturday I went to Harriman State Park for free day.

There was free hot cocoa, free fresh-made doughnuts, free entrance and free demos. But no free kisses or better yet, tacos. My wife, Julie, and I skied to the warming hut yurt on groomed trails with a nice veneer of fresh snow. It made for fast, easy conditions.

As we drove north from Idaho Falls early in the morning, no snow was falling. At Ashton, we could see a heavy cloud perched on the caldera like whipped cream on top of a frosty milkshake. As we drove up Ashton hill, snow began to fall and continued the rest of the day. Besides cross-country skiing, the day was a big draw for fat bikers. A couple of shops, CBI Bikes in Idaho Falls and the Brigham Young University-Idaho Outdoor Recreation Center, had fat bikes on hand to demo.

After we skied, I borrowed one of the bikes for a spin around the giant loop on the northeast end of the park. I found the conditions quite good for biking — mostly hard packed with a bit of fresh snow on top. I was thinking, if you could guarantee conditions like that every time you rode a fat bike, I’d have to buy one. But the occasional drift of soft snow across the trail reminded me of what challenging conditions are like. I hit the drifts and ground to a near halt. Once a drift threw me from the bike. But otherwise, the day was a blast.

I passed one woman testing a demo fat bike. “This could get addicting,” she said. As one friend told me, since she bought her fat bike, she’s pretty much ditched her cross-country skis.

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Kudos to the city of Idaho Falls for working out agreements with the Idaho Irrigation District to build pathways along canals passing through town. This will be a boon to the city and offer not only recreation opportunities, but add extra transportation routes that avoid city motor traffic. For every person walking or biking on a canal route that means one less car on the road.

About a dozen years ago, as an experiment on a particularly snowy day, I cross-country skied along the nearest canal by my house in Idaho Falls as far north as I could go. I live on the east side of town. After a couple of miles I stopped near Yellowstone Highway. I thought it was awesome to be able to ski through neighborhoods and past stores without using streets or sidewalks, and only occasionally having to cross streets.

Many of these canals have become de facto neighborhood trails for walking dogs or going for jog. This city agreement will formalize the system and help canal companies maintain banks.

Looking to the future, this can help create a trail system linking to the green belt and beyond. My vision would then be to link pathways between cities from West Yellowstone to Pocatello. Along the way, there could be picnic grounds, campgrounds and way stations. Such a path would draw running and cycling events and act like a steady oil well pumping cash into local economies for decades. Like the pathways in northern Idaho, this pathway would draw people from around North America. Let’s do this.