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Historians want ice age floods path designated as national trail

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Ice age floods from Glacial Lake Missoula ripped through Eastern Washington 12,000 to 17,000 years ago, shaping this part of the country and creating unique geological features, such as the dry falls near Grand Coulee. A bill was recently introduced that would designate an Ice Age Floods National Geological Trail, marking the path of the flood water from Missoula, Mont. to the Pacific Ocean.

Driving through Eastern Washington it is difficult to ignore the ever changing landscapes - the canyons, buttes and ridges that make the area so distinctive.

It's these geological features that Congressman Doc Hastings and Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray want to help preserve.

Together, the group is working to pass legislation that would mean the creation of an Ice Age Floods National Geological Trail through portions of Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

According to the Ice Age Floods Institute, the geological features that make Eastern Washington unique are the result of a series of ice age floods that occurred between 12,000 and 17,000 years ago. The glacial floods broke through an ice dam and sent a wall of water barreling from Montana to the Pacific Ocean. The floods cut through the landscape and deposited large boulders and fertile soil in different areas.

Jim Pritchard, a member of the Ice Age Floods Institute living in Ephrata, explained that the trail designation would make it possible for the National Park Service to mark the route of the flood waters. He explained that the route would most likely lead visitors down highways that run through the flood path from Missoula, Mont. to the Pacific Ocean. He noted there would be a spur of the trail that would come up into the Yakima Valley, noting that at several points in ice age history flood waters were backed up all the way to Zillah.

"The trail would tell the story of how our area was forever changed by the cataclysmic floods and (would) provide small towns and communities throughout the region with a new way to attract visitors," Hastings said in a press release. "I've been working with the Institute and local supporters for quite some time on this project and they deserve a lot of credit for keeping the ball rolling."

Pritchard said the Ice Age Floods Institute was organized in 1994 and since then the group has been working to get a trail designated. He said the group felt that the creation of a designated ice age floods trail would help educate people about the events that helped shape this area of the country.

Pritchard said the project really took off in 1999, when the National Park Service put money aside in its budget to conduct a study on the most effective ways to educate people about the ice age floods. He said the study was completed in February 2001 and in April the group turned their attention to Congress.

"We're really getting excited now that the bills are being introduced," Pritchard said.

He noted that the Ice Age Floods Institute is now working with Hastings office to figure out what the next step will be in trying to ensure that the Ice Age Floods Trial Bill will be passed.

Pritchard said with 2004 being a presidential election year, the group is not sure whether or not the bill will make it to the floor this year, though they are remaining hopeful.

According to Pritchard, once the bill gets passed and the trail is designated, the group will have to begin rallying for funding to be put aside in the National Park Service budget .

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