Early settlement of the Tobacco Valley was closely tied to the extension of the Great Northern Railroad from Columbia Falls to the Town of Rexford. This railroad link was started in 1901 and finally completed in 1904. It was built to connect the Fernie Branch Railroad which hugged the east bank of the Kootenai River to gain better access to British Columbia. Following the completion of the line, trains also brought in farmers from the eastern states. However, the biggest result of the arrival of rail service was access to lumber markets and the development of a timber economy in the Tobacco Valley area. By 1909, the Eureka Lumber Company was the largest industrial enterprise in Lincoln County.
Fast forward to 1997, when Sunburst began a collaborative effort with various agencies to establish the Kootenai Rails-to-Trail from downtown Eureka to Lake Koocanusa along this same railroad line. Together with the US Corps of Engineers, the US Forest Service, a Tobacco Valley Ranch landowner and the railroad, these organizations and individuals gathered all the permits and agreements needed to have a continuous 7.5 mile public trail suitable for walking, cycling and horseback riding. Since that beginning, the trail has gotten better and better as the US Forest Service maintains brush and fallen trees and the Tobacco Valley Ranch deeded an easement to Sunburst to insure the continuity of the trail. Benches, a picnic table and restrooms are set up for convenience along the route. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has helped with funding for improvements on the trail. The trail is definitely a community effort that benefits not only Tobacco Valley residents but visitors as well. Walking along the trail, one sees families strolling and young joggers among the many trail users. Take some time soon to explore the trail and its lovely route along the Tobacco River.