Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Trails group looks to the future

Stewardship, education is group's mission


By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer

Volunteers with the Big Wood Backcountry Trails advocacy group met with BLM and U.S. Forest Service employees at the American Legion Hall in Ketchum to discuss the group's mission and review recent and proposed trail maintenance projects. The group is looking to develop a Web site to promote trail stewardship and provide public information about the state of the trails in the Wood River Valley. Photo by David N. Seelig

After making refinements to their mission statement, the Big Wood Backcountry Trails group, a collection of motorcyclists and mountain bikers, decided to look into building a Web site to bring focus to its function as a clearinghouse for information, education and stewardship of trails in the region.

Geared toward recreation, the group includes equestrian riders and is focused on improving opportunities, particularly on single-track dirt trails.

As a testament to the group's efforts, Bureau of Land Management Outdoor Recreation Planner John Kurtz announced that the group has been awarded $68,000 for construction of some 12 miles of new trails in Croy Canyon, west of Hailey near the Rotarun Ski Area. The project is to be called the Rotarun Trail Network.

"Before any work can begin we have to complete the Environmental Assessment that addresses all natural-resource issues regarding trail construction and future impacts from trail use," Kurtz said at a meeting Thursday, Aug.4, at the American Legion Hall in Ketchum. "Our office hopes to have this complete within the next few months and at that time it will be made available for public comment.

"This will be done through an open house or written notification in the local papers. I'm hoping we can have it reviewed by mid-October. If everything goes the way we want and we don't have any hiccups along the way, potentially, work could start by next spring. A lot of that depends on contractors and how busy their schedules are."

Kurtz said the project ranked fourth out of 80 applicants for Idaho Parks and Recreation grants. He added that through the process the BLM worked very closely with the BWBT group.

"They were very helpful and patient in working with us on the layout and design," he said. "Florence Blanchard—she did a great job writing the grant. I didn't have the time and in some ways the expertise ... it got submitted with the BLM."

The group took an important action that brought credibility and recognition of the importance of the group in May when the team worked with the BLM and with Hatty Gulch ranchers Bud Purdy, John Faulkner and Mike Faulkner to install several "trail-sized" cattle guards on popular Croy Canyon trails. BWBT had the cattle guards fabricated and took the initiative on the diplomatic project following an Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission panel discussion about management of rangeland gates at the 2004 Idaho Wool Growers Association Convention held in Sun Valley last fall.

Joe Miczulski, recreation specialist with the Ketchum Ranger District, also attended Thursday's meeting and said Forest Service trail maintenance crews are still busy working on the Warm Springs Ridge Trail and will complete their work for the season on Aug. 12.

BWBT members thanked Miczulski and asked him to relay the message that trail users had really enjoyed improvements government crews have made this year.

"We're getting spoiled," said Sean McLaughlin, a member of the group and a bicycle mechanic at The Elephant's Perch. "Those trials are so buffed out."

Miczulski said he would relay the message and that the crews had heard previous kudos on their work from the group.

"That put a smile on the crew's face," Miczulski said. "They really appreciate that."

The group also reviewed issues relating to volunteer trail maintenance. Miczulski said plans for BWBT volunteers to get into the Parker Gulch area to build a quarter-mile of trail are coming together. The group has worked with the Forest Service previously to build a Citizen Trail.

"It looks like we will be able to get in to do the work on it mid-month," said Chris Leman, BWBT president. "I'll keep the group posted as a schedule of work firms up."

Miczulski also welcomed an offer by the group to help manufacture some missing trail signs to Forest Service specifications.

The building symbiosis between government and citizens was evident at the meeting. Both Kurtz and Miczulski agreed that the creation of a Web site would help inform everyone what is happening on the trails in terms of official and volunteer improvements. The Web site could compare to the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center Web site that keeps people informed about the snowpack and avalanche conditions.

In an involved discussion about trail erosion and the benefits of "resting" some trails like farmers rotate crops, motorcyclist Chris Klick said better riding techniques and etiquette for both motorcyclists and mountain bikers is a matter of education.

"I ride with some of the best riders in the world. They never spin a wheel," Klick said, adding that more experienced riders can climb steep hills without cutting ruts in the trail because they are skilled enough not to lay on the throttle for fear of tipping over. "Smooth works. It's the good way to ride."

Shelley Brust, a motorcyclist, suggested that the group promote free skills clinics for riders. Maintenance clinics could also be considered.

Kurtz said that the International Mountain Biking Association's Trail Care Crew will be in Boise at a South West Idaho Mountain Bike Association event soon. They will be discussing development of "freeride" opportunities Sept. 15, 16, 17, and 18. Anyone interested should contact SWIMBA about the event at www.swimba.org. Kurtz, who has attended other IMBA Trail Care Crew events, said he found them helpful.

The group also discussed the value of Adopt-a-Trail campaigns and the tradition of volunteer trail maintenance crews who cut the initials TH (Tree Hugger) or AT (Adopt-a-Trail) or V (Volunteer) in round log ends near the end of a recently cleared trail.

Miczulski said he and Ketchum District Trails Specialist Jeff Halligan are concerned about the escalation of "carving" in the forest. Leman said others are also concerned with markers on signs that indicate who has adopted certain sections of trail, considering them a form of gratuitous advertising.

The group considered that both forms of recognition could be addressed through the Web site and could include reports on the latest conditions and maintenance initiatives.

The Elephant's Perch will hold a volunteer AT work session on Thursday, Aug. 11. Volunteers should meet at the base of Heidelberg/Wanderers Way on the Warm Springs side of the trail at 6:30 p.m.

For more information about BWBT, contact Chris Leman by telephone at 726-2948 or by e-mail at leman@cox-internet.com.




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