Friday, July 13, 2007

Makeover planned for Galena trails

Group seeks to make recreation more sustainable

Express Staff Writer

Potential changes to the summer trail system surrounding Galena Lodge are discussed at the lodge Wednesday. Clockwise from top left are: Joe Heiss, president of Sawtooth Backcountry Horseman; Cindy Lambert, member of Sawtooth Backcountry Horseman; Don Shepler, co-operator of Galena Lodge; and Jill Van Winkle, of International Mountain Biking Association. Photo by Chris Pilaro

Since Galena's inception in 1879, its rapid growth to nearly 800 residents and its even quicker exodus in 1890 when the veins of silver ore began to dissipate, the area has undergone many facelifts.

On Wednesday, July 11, more than a century after the first mining roads were cut, Galena once again stood poised for change.

The nonprofit group Big Wood Backcountry Trails provided the catalyst for recent efforts, commissioning the International Mountain Biking Association's Trail Solutions to redesign Galena's trail system. The goal is to design sustainable trails that minimize user impacts on the natural environment.

"Most of the trails are laid on old mining roads," said Don Shepler, co-operator of Galena Lodge. "And most were built to go from point A to point B," meaning little to no thought was put toward sustainability and the impacts the roads would have on surrounding watersheds.

In the coming weeks, Chris Bernhardt, coordinator of Trail Solutions, and Jill Van Winkle, trial specialist for International Mountain Biking Association, will collect input and information from parties with a vested interest in Galena. Parties include the Blaine County Recreation District, the U.S. Forest Service's Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Big Wood Backcountry Trails and representatives of local equestrian, hiking and biking groups.

The final proposal will also be subject to National Environmental Policy Act requirements. NEPA gives federal agencies the opportunity to assess environmental values of the decision-making processes by considering environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.

Following the data collection process Bernhardt and Van Winkle will present conceptual designs for discussion. Although the process is in its early stages, Bernhardt said the plan is to design the trails on a "slacked loop system." This is a design that would lay out pathways roughly in concentric circles with Galena Lodge at the center, beginner trials in the inside rings with intermediate trails farther out. The most difficult trails would be on the periphery.

"It will probably be a pretty comprehensive make-over," Bernhardt said. "We will likely eliminate most of the road use."

One tangible change discussed on Wednesday was a potential plan to improve access to the ridgelines surrounding Galena Summit.

"I've been up there in the winter," Shepler said. "But to be able to do that in the summer would be amazing."

When improvements begin in earnest, the trails would be cut using both hand tools and tractors.

"We believe we can keep the environmental impact low even with the use of heavy equipment," Bernhardt said.

·  Sun Valley Co., in conjunction with Trail Solutions, is beginning the layout of nearly six miles of new trails above the Gun Club 9 golf course along Trail Creek Road this week. There are existing trails above the golf course, but Bernhardt said "nearly 90 percent of the Gun Club 9 trials are new." Although construction is expected to be complete by fall, access will be limited until next summer to allow the winter snow and ensuing spring thaw to harden the ground.

· Trail Solutions is also beginning construction this Friday on the Hailey Community Bike Park, located on the backside of Rotarun ski area. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer.

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