Friday, December 3, 2004

Grassroots trail group brainstorms with BLM

Parties to link trail improvements, habitat preservation


By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer

Trail consolidation, connectivity and habitat preservation were major themes at a meeting Wednesday evening in Ketchum of Big Wood Backcountry Trails volunteers and the Bureau of Land Management. The parties joined forces to discuss Croy Canyon recreational trail use.

Trail advocates, made up of mountain bikers and motorcycle and equestrian riders, and John Kurtz, a BLM recreation planner, focused on Kurtz's proposal for building an eight-mile single-track trail on public land near Rotarun Ski Area, west of Hailey.

Kurtz explained that the BLM is trying to address a number of concerns as it leads into a new era of managing recreation. Concerns center on impacts to sage grouse habitat and historical grazing allocations. Hurdles to the proposal could become particularly high if sage grouse are listed as an endangered species, Kurtz said, asking the group to brainstorm and think about the interplay with private land.

"I'm just one brain," Kurtz said. "It's your country. Feel free to shoot me down."

Rather than criticize, however, trail advocates made strides to cooperate, explaining that they would like to help as educators, trail design consultants and trail crew laborers.

The preservation goal is to avoid bisecting habitat and relocate trails to reduce impact.

Kurtz said volunteer help to identify trails that could be closed would go a long way to establishing the Rotarun project, which in turn could clarify trail issues throughout the patchwork of private and public land in Croy Canyon.

Trail advocate Sean McClaughlin recommended that everyone take a look at trail development efforts in Fruita, Colo., and St. George, Utah, for examples of good trail management, which contribute simultaneously to creating enjoyable recreation and preservation.

"Look at what's going on elsewhere," he said. "You get a buffed out system in exchange for closing sensitive areas."

In the effort to improve trails and manage impact, the project should include educating riders about trail etiquette, including gate management, all parties agreed. Trail advocate Chris Klick suggested that 60-inch wide cattle guards that accommodate ATVs could replace some gates.

The group looked to resolve similar issues on private land.

In the mid-1990s when trail advocates began to educate the public about trail and gate courtesy they wanted to make maps to identify adequate recreational trails in Croy Canyon, said Chris Leman, Big Wood Backcountry Trails de facto leader. But, volunteers discovered lines were being drawn across a private land.

"We began to understand the checkerboard ownership," Leman said.

The hope is that the Rotarun network will act as a test project that can stand out as a positive result of cooperation.

"More and more we realize we can build bridges by cooperating," Leman said.

For rancher Bud Purdy and others with private ranch land, cooperation includes keeping gates across trails closed if they are closed.

"What people need to understand is that a lot of the land they are crossing is private," Purdy said in a telephone interview.

Trail advocates acknowledged that some trail users are lax about closing gates.

"If they don't respect gates they will lose access, " Purdy said. "We put up signs this year and that has helped some."

Kurtz said the BLM has no jurisdiction to manage recreation on private land. But, he agreed that if volunteers take ownership of the Rotarun project and contribute sweat equity to a successful, sustainable project, surrounding landowners may see the benefits. The show of cooperation could help the BLM negotiate land swaps or easements for more trail consolidation in the future, he added.

Kurtz said he hopes the environmental assessment for the Rotarun project will be ready for public comment in January.




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