COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A long-anticipated safety improvement at a popular Lake Coeur d'Alene Boy Scout camp is finally taking shape. This week, construction crews began constructing a pedestrian underpass beneath Highway 97 at Camp Easton.
The 400-acre camp, which has been at its Gotham Bay location for 90 years, is bisected by Highway 97, forcing campers to walk across the road to access various cabins and some activity areas.
“The kids are constantly crossing the highway,” said Andrew Bell, Camp Easton's director. Bell noted that on a given week during the summer, anywhere from 250 to 400 boy scouts, campers, and adults can be at the camp. “They will cross the highway anywhere from two to ten times a day,” Bell said. This year, Camp Easton is anticipating 1,480 children over the course of the summer.
“There are some days that I have sleepless nights,” said Camp Easton employee Sean Weiler regarding the amount of campers crossing the highway during the summer. Both Weiler and Bell noted that, according to their research, there has never been an instance of a car striking a person crossing Highway 97 at Camp Easton. Despite that, Weiler noted that he's seen several instances where drivers were forced to quickly hit their brakes in front of crossing children. “Once they hit the straightaway we have in front of the camp, they really like to go a little bit faster,” he said.
Weiler, who has worked at Camp Easton since 2011, has become a seasoned expert in Camp Easton's defacto motto that's shared with new campers. "Look left! Look right!" shouted Weiler, as he provided an example of a lively and somewhat jovial safety message told to scouts. "Look left! Listen! Smell the road!” joked Weiler.
Despite the light tone, the message is very serious. “Even though we’ve never had an incident, we don’t want to wait until we have one to make a change like this,” said Bell of the planned safety improvements.
Soon, campers will be able to access both sides of the camp via a ten-foot wide walkway tunnel being built beneath Highway 97. The project, which costs over $300,000 according to Bell, is being covered by a $230,000 grant from the federal Transportation Alternative Program. The Boy Scouts of America Inland Northwest Council raised an additional $45,000 to help fund the project.
The improvements were years in the making, said Weiler, noting a 2005 traffic study that first began looking at the issue. For the last seven years, a pedestrian underpass has been discussed at Camp Easton according to Weiler.
“Knowing that there was a plan that we were trying to get, to now seeing it facilitated has just lifted a weight off the shoulders,” he said, noting that the federal grant money made the project possible.
Starting May 7th, the Idaho Transportation Department expects to close Highway 97 at Camp Easton to allow construction of the tunnel. ITD is advising drivers to use Burma Road as a detour. The closure is expected to be lifted by May 16th.