ATV loop proposed
from Challis to Arco
By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer
A 460-mile loop of
all-terrain vehicle routes that would connect Challis, Mackay and Arco is being
proposed as a new tourism draw for southeastern Idaho. The Idaho Department of
Parks and Recreation would like to see the loop in place for ATV users by the
summer of 2004.
IDPR officials expect to
submit the department’s plan for the trail to the U.S. Forest Service and
Bureau of Land Management by mid-March. The two agencies, which manage most of
the land through which the proposed ATV trail would run, say they would probably
take about a year to conduct an environmental review and reach a decision.
ATV use in Idaho is booming—in
the five years preceding 2001, off-highway vehicle registrations rose from
27,700 to 55,100.
To provide a place to attract
some of those vehicles, the IDPR would like to link existing dirt roads and
trails to form a loop that would go southeast from Challis past Mackay to Arco,
and then around to the east side of the Lost River Range for a return route back
Basically, the western half
of the 460-mile loop would proceed south from Challis through the dry foothills
of the White Cloud Mountains to the White Knob Mountains, west of Mackay, and
continue south over Antelope Creek Pass into BLM rangeland west of Arco.
From Arco, the loop would
circle the southern end of the Lost River Range to Howe, and then proceed up the
Little Lost River drainage over the Hawley Mountains to the Donkey Hills and the
Pahsimeroi River drainage. West of May, the ATV loop would cross the Pahsimeroi
Mountains to reach Challis.
One of the trail’s spur
loops would take riders through Copper Basin, east of the White Knobs and north
of the Pioneer Mountains.
Another spur would take
riders over Double Springs Pass—just north of Borah Peak, the state’s
highest mountain—in to the top of the Pahsimeroi drainage. And a third spur
would travel southeast out of Mackay over Pass Creek in to the top of the Little
The IDPR has stated that the
trail would be a demonstration project for future ATV management throughout
The trail would be funded by
the state’s Off-highway Vehicle Fund, which collects about $600,000 annually.
The department would spend $105,000 to build three parking lots, $9,000 for
information kiosks, $6,000 for cattle guards, $37,500 for restrooms and $15,000
for signs. An annual budget of $62,000 is proposed to cover operating costs.
The IDPR held public hearings
on the proposed trail on Feb. 4, 5 and 6 in Challis, Mackay and Arco. The
approximately 60 comments collected there will be forwarded to the Forest
Service and BLM. The IDPR’s comment period ends Friday, Feb. 29, but public
comments will again be collected by the Forest Service and BLM once their
decision-making process begins.
Dave Claycomb, outdoor
recreation program specialist with the IDPR’s Eastern Regional Office in Idaho
Falls, said he has not read all the comments, but that sentiment expressed at
the public meetings mostly favored the project.
"I think it’s a great
idea," Challis Mayor Catherine Becker said in an interview. "It would
give more people the chance to see our country and it would be good for
Part of the IDPR’s sales
pitch is that the trail will stimulate the economies of Challis, Arco and
Mackay. The proposed trail is modeled after the 500-mile-long Paiute Trail in
south-central Utah, which in 2001 attracted more than 60,000 riders, who spent
about $6 million in the area.
But those kinds of numbers
scare some of the proposed tails neighbors. Andy Goodwin, a rancher in Mackay
and part-time Ketchum resident, said in an interview that he fears the trail
will attract so many ATV users that the valleys it runs through will become
"The people will not
stay on those trails," he said. "What’s actually going to happen is
that they’re going to give people a main artery from which they can branch out
and go wherever they want."
Claycomb said the department
is well aware of that possibility and plans to address it. The department has
supported a bill now before the Idaho Legislature (House Bill 66) that would
allow IDPR employees to issue citations outside of state parks. Claycomb said
his department has budgeted enough money to fund two full-time rangers to patrol
the ATV trail.
"The off-trail travel is
already taking place," he said. "This is an opportunity to eliminate
that, to give them a designated route."
A Forest Service travel plan
limits off-road travel on the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The BLM is in the
process of creating such a plan for the Challis Resource Area. ATV riders who
violated those plans could be cited.
But Mackay rancher Keith Hill
said he doubts the public agencies will be able to control illegal use, and
fears there would be heavy impacts on wildlife, especially elk, on the landscape
and on the peace of the valley.
"When the ATVs are out
there, you can spot every one of them from the dust clouds," he said.
Hill said most of the other
speakers at the Mackay meeting made statements similar to his.
Anyone who would like to rush
comments into the mail today, to reach the IDPR by Friday, can send them to the
Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, Box 1876, Idaho Falls, ID 83403.