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Taft Tunnel Preservation Society receives Esto Perpetua award

by CHANSE WATSON
Managing Editor | September 24, 2021 7:00 AM

WALLACE — The awards continue to pile up for Silver Valley historical groups. Most recently, the Taft Tunnel Preservation Society was recognized by the Idaho State Historical Society for its work in preserving the Route of the Hiawatha and the Taft Tunnel. On Aug. 23, TTPS Executive Director Dean Cooper traveled to Boise to accept one of 12 Esto Perpetua awards given out this year after the group was nominated for the honor by Jim See — a former award recipient himself.

According to See in his nomination letter, TTPS was formed as an Idaho nonprofit corporation based in Wallace to preserve the Taft Tunnel and miles of accompanying railroad track as a bike trail.

"Back before there was a Route of the Hiawatha, there were some people riding through the tunnel and using the railroad grade on bikes," Cooper explained. "Because of that, the USFS closed it with huge doors on the main tunnel to kind of block it off. It was around that time that the TTPS was formed to convert the abandoned railway into a bike trail that preserves the history and provides a look at the scenic beauty of the area back there."

After five years of constant collaborative efforts between TTPS members, historians, authors, government agencies, recreation enthusiasts and numerous volunteers — their goal was accomplished.

"The tunnel was repaired and there is now a 15-mile bike trail with a number of tunnels and trestles," See wrote. "The Society applied for a special-use permit to operate the trail as a concession for the first three years. The Lookout Pass Ski Area has the bike trail concession through the U.S. Forest Service today."

More well-known as the Route of the Hiawatha, this bike trail provides bike riders with unique experiences through 10 tunnels and more than seven trestles. It attracts thousands of riders a year and contributes significantly to tourism in the Shoshone, Kootenai, Benewah and Latah counties in Idaho and Mineral County in Montana.

Following the award ceremony, where he met Idaho Gov. Brad Little himself, Cooper was thankful to the historical society for acknowledging TTPS's work.

"It's a huge honor. The Orchid award was a few years back and this is another meaningful award to the group," Cooper said.

TTPS isn't involved day-to-day like it used to be with the tunnel and trail, but still contributes by assisting with signage and helping out whenever the USFS requests.

The Idaho State Historical Society explains that The Esto Perpetua Award takes its name from the state’s motto, “let it be perpetual” and for the past 22 years, the Idaho State Historical Society has recognized people and organizations who have preserved and promoted Idaho’s history through professional accomplishments, public service or volunteerism, and philanthropy.

Since the award was created in 1999, ISHS has recognized the inspiring local preservation efforts of more than 160 individuals and organizations throughout the state of Idaho. The work of an Esto Perpetua award reflects a lifetime of achievement and their commitment to and passion for Idaho and its history.

"The Taft Tunnel Preservation Society is worthy of the Esto Perpetua Award," See said. "The Route of the Hiawatha has significantly contributed to preserving Idaho's history. Transforming an abandoned railroad bed to a world class tourist attraction was creative and innovative. The economic contribution to the Silver Valley, its communities, the county and surrounding counties is immeasurable."