Volunteers started installation of several cattle guards last weekend in Hatty Gulch, west of Hailey, following up on a plan derived from the meeting of the Idaho Wool Growers Association last fall in Sun Valley.
Initiated by Big Wood Backcounty Trails volunteers, the project is bridging the gap between recreational users and ranchers on trails that crisscross a patchwork of public land and private property owned by John Faulkner and Harry Rinker.
"At the wool growers' conference ... Faulkner said cattle guards would be a big help to them," said Chris Leman, a Big Wood Backcounty Trails volunteer and project organizer. "When he suggested it we said, 'Here's our opportunity. Let's jump on it.'"
Hatty Gulch is part of the Rock Creek drainage, some 10 miles out Croy Canyon.
"Gates being left open is an ongoing problem for ranchers," Leman said. "The existing gates will get used less often, so there should be fewer problems with them being left open. We're also putting up signs asking folks to close gates and respect property—the project is providing us with some good opportunities for getting the word out about these things."
Big Wood Backcountry Trails has been working with Bureau of Land Management Recreation Planner John Kurtz on the project, and with regional ranchers Bud Purdy, John Faulkner and Mike Faulkner.
After an Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission panel discussion at the 2004 Idaho Wool Growers Association Convention, members of the trail group got to talking with some of the ranchers.
"The issue of gates being left open was brought up," Leman said. "They all agreed that the installation of some "trail-sized" cattle guards might go a long way in helping the situation."
The Hatty Gulch project is being viewed as a start to a broader trail management effort in the Wood River Valley. The trail group had the cattle guards fabricated, and with a break in the weather the group and the ranchers gathered their tools and energies and got to work. Hailey resident Bruce Tidwell donated his time and the use of his backhoe to the operation.
"Everyone in attendance was glad to step aside and let Bruce's piece of equipment lift the 350-plus-pound units into place," Leman said.
About 20 volunteers joined the ranchers to install the first two units bridging the Faulkner's land. The other two units on one of Rinker's properties will be installed soon, Leman said. Purdy manages the Rinker property.
The volunteers at the work session were representative of the trail group's diverse cross-section. BWBT members include motorcycle riders, hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. Local motorcycle shops were instrumental in spreading the word that volunteers were needed for the workday, and the bikers made a strong showing.
"Sometimes ranchers get a bum rap, but they're good neighbors. They do a ton of good that usually goes unnoticed," Leman said. "They get taken for granted. Someday, when the land's sold off and the 'no trespassing' signs go up we'll realize what we lost. If we can help them a little, save them some aggravation and trouble, we've done what we set out to do."