The History Behind the Trail
Many residents in the area have not only heard about the “Johnston Trail” but have used it extensively as an excellent hiking trail or for other recreational activities. As the trail possesses a spectacular view of the Smoky River, It is one of the most beautiful scenic trails in the area. However, not everyone knows where the name came from and it has on occasion even been referred to incorrectly as the Johnson Trail. It was actually named after the person who had originally constructed the trail – Willis Johnston.
The Johnston family has been in the Bezanson area since 1912. When Willis returned from WWII, he purchased a ½ section of land from his father. Willis and his wife, Vivian, decided to enter into a cattle ranching business and began to look for land to lease in order to have sufficient pasture on which to run their cattle during the summer months. Suitable acres were located on the east side of the Smoky River – portions of NE 18, W ½ of 19, NE 20 and W ½ of 20-72-2-W6. The lease was in place by 1959.
Then a road had to be built to reach the lease land. Willis purchased a John Deer 440 Caterpillar, welded a canopy on the machine and began to clear a roadway of trees and build-up a base of suitable soil for the road itself. It was quite the daunting task for such a small piece of equipment. At that time, there was a small convenience store and restaurant located on the north side of the Smoky River Bridge on the east side of the river. The “Johnston Trail” began slightly east of that point and meandered northward towards the lease land. Willis and Vivian enjoyed many years in the cattle industry before Vivian became ill and passed away in 1974. Willis subsequently sold his herd of cattle and did not renew the lease in 1977.
Willis was very proud that the road became known as the “Johnston Trail” and his descendants are very pleased that it is still known as that yet today.
Written and photos by Wanda (Johnston) Zenner March 2020
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