Friday, November 2, 2007

BLM maps out recreational uses for southern Wood River Valley

Proposed travel plan will more closely manage federal lands

Express Staff Writer

BLM travel plan
A second meeting on the BLM travel plan for the Wood River Valley will be held at 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 7, in the upstairs meeting room at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

The types of recreational uses that take place on public lands in the southern Wood River Valley are about as myriad as the number of peaks, ridges and valleys that punctuate the remote area. In this complex mixture of Rocky Mountain and Great Basin-style topography, snowmobilers trade steep, snowy lines with adventuresome backcountry skiers. During the warmer months of late spring, summer and fall, hikers trek the same trails and rough jeep roads used by mountain bikers, horseback riders, all-terrain vehicle riders and big game hunters.
Until now, these recreational users have gone about what they do on their own time with very little oversight by federal land managers from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the primary owner of public lands in the area.
In many ways, the management of this vast area has been almost an afterthought, at least in comparison to the more intensely managed lands of the Sawtooth National Forest to the north.

But that’s all about to change.
Addressing the public during a meeting at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey Tuesday, John Kurtz, the outdoor recreation manager for the BLM’s Shoshone Field Office, laid out the results of more than a year of planning effort. These are included in a list of recommendations for recreation management titled the “Blaine County Cooperative Conservation Recreation and Travel Plan.”
Up until the present day, BLM lands included in the hodgepodge of public and private lands in the valley stretching from just north of Ketchum all the way south to the eastern Camas Prairie and within sight of Carey have been managed under an open use designation. This means that all types of vehicle uses are permitted anywhere and at all times.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a free-for-all, but there’s a lot of things going on everywhere,” Kurtz told the crowd.
Today, rapid growth in Blaine County has made such a designation unfeasible, he said.
In early 2005, commissioners wrote the BLM to notify them of damaged vegetation, soils, riparian areas and hillsides. As part of their letter, the commissioners asked the BLM to confine vehicles to designated routes and to eliminate cross-country to stop any further resource damage, Kurtz said.
In order to determine what types of experience recreationists prefer—the demand—14 different focus group meetings were held in Hailey during the winter and summer of 2006, he said. The purpose of these meetings was to understand the value and importance of Wood River Valley lands to the communities of the area, he said.
The next step was to identify the mixture of BLM, state of Idaho and private lands—the supply—that exist within the planning area covering the portion of the Wood River Valley from near Ketchum south to U.S. Highway 20.
“The supply is our planning area. This is where people go,” Kurtz said.
So, by looking at the lands themselves backed against the recreational needs expressed by focus group participants, BLM and county officials were able to begin prioritizing how to accommodate the growing influx of recreationists. Out of that came the recommendations in the proposed BLM travel plan, which lays out numerous recreational zones where one or more type of recreational use is the priority.
Within the entire study area, designated roads and primitive roads would remain open to all types of motorized vehicles under the proposed travel plan. On trails, however, what uses deemed suitable for which trails would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Throughout the large area, the plan envisions 14 different recreation management designations, two related to winter use and 12 related to summer use. During the winter, another management designation called the “Winter Seasonal Area of Critical Environmental Concern” would close off large areas to all public use to protect wintering wildlife.
Within the 12 summer recreation management zones, trail use would be limited to certain uses. For example, in a proposed area called the Rotarun West-Cove Creek Recreation Management Zone, motorcycle use would be the predominate use, although hikers and mountain bikers could continue to use the area. Nearby, within the Rotarun East Recreation Management Area in the Carbonate Mountain and Democrat Gulch area, only non-motorized uses would be allowed.
The idea is to give individual users “the kind of recreational experience they are looking for,” Kurtz said.
Still, no plan will please everyone, he said.
“It’s not everything to everybody,” Kurtz said. “If we try to do that we’re not going to be successful.”
During a public comment period following Kurtz’s remarks, a long line of speakers voiced concerns and support for the plan. In general, it seemed that while many had specific concerns about individual components of the plan, most indicated some level of support for it.
What was arguably the most significant vote of support for the plan came from Chris Leman, spokesman for Wood River Valley trails advocacy group Big Wood Backcountry Trails.
“We’re really encouraged to see this planning effort,” Leman said. “The document is clear. It’s understandable.
Leman did express concerns with the proposals to limit hillside areas south of Quigley Gulch to hiking and the limiting of trail expansion opportunities in the Sun Peak area north of Ketchum.
At some point after the current public comment period ends, the Blaine County Commission will vote on the proposed BLM travel plan. BLM and county officials chose to use the method to expedite the planning process.

Once the commission makes their vote, the recommended travel plan will then go to the BLM for final consideration.

Click to enlarge (PDF)
Map courtesy of Blaine County GIS Department
Winter recreation on BLM lands in the southern Wood River Valley would be more closely managed under a draft travel plan that has been released to the public.

BLM travel plan includes numerous recreation zones in southern valley

The preliminary U.S. Bureau of Land Management travel plan being considered by the Blaine County Commission (see adjacent story) would establish a variety of summer and winter recreation management zones on the mixture of public and private lands that make up the southern Wood River Valley.

The proposed seasonal management zones are shown on separate winter and summer maps that were recently released to the public. The maps and accompanying travel plan can be viewed on the Blaine County Web site at

Winter designations in the BLM travel plan

Non-motorized winter zone: This extensive recreation management zone would provide for non-motorized backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and ski touring in areas described as "quiet nooks." It would cover seven separate spots, including the Sun Peak area north of Ketchum, much of the west-facing slopes below Cow Catcher Ridge near Hailey and both sides of Croy Canyon from Colorado Gulch to Deer Creek. Areas south of Elkhorn Creek, the East Fork of the Big Wood River and Indian Creek are also included in this proposed designation.

Snowmobile zone: This proposed recreation management zone, whose total area is larger than the non-motorized winter recreation area, would provide for cross-country snowmobile riding opportunities in a remote setting. The zone includes two main areas, one in the vicinity of Richardson Summit and Rock Creek southwest of Bellevue, and the other in the mountains northeast of the Muldoon, Slaughterhouse and Quigley drainages. Designated snowmobile routes from the lower Wood River Valley would connect to the high elevation snowmobile areas.

Winter closure area: This area of critical environmental concern, the largest of the three winter zones, is sure to be among the most controversial aspects of the proposed BLM travel plan. The extensive area, which would cover large areas on both sides of the Wood River Valley, would be closed to public use for an undetermined length of time during the winter to protect wintering wildlife. In the draft BLM travel plan, the suggested closure date is stated as sometime after Dec. 1, and the possible opening date sometime between March 15 and April 30 depending on wildlife migration, snow depth and road conditions. Details of the closure would be defined in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Summer designations in the BLM travel plan

Colorado Gulch zone: Located southwest of Hailey, management of this area would prioritize non-motorized and seasonal motorized opportunities in a backcountry setting close to town. The proposal includes a short-term opening of the county road up Colorado Gulch to motorized use during the late summer and fall months with an emphasis on the educational opportunities provided by historical mining structures. At other times, the road would be open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Community Trails zone: Located in the lower end of Quigley Gulch east of Hailey, this small recreation zone would be managed for a variety of non-motorized recreational activities on naturally surfaced trails close to town. This area is located on private property.

East Magic Motocross Area: Located south of U.S. Highway 20 near the east shore of Magic Reservoir, this small area would provide opportunities for motocross skills and abilities development. Within the intermediate and expert level motocross area, riders could chose from a competition motocross track as well an open riding designation on adjacent lands.

Hillside-Undeveloped zone: This area, the largest summer season recreation area proposed, would cover large stretches of land on both sides of state Highway 75 in the Wood River Valley. The designation would cover most of the east side of Highway 75 between Ketchum and the undeveloped hills north of U.S. Highway 20 west of Carey. It would also cover lands in the vicinity of Richardson Summit, Colorado Gulch, the lower Greenhorn Gulch and Timber Gulch areas and the Sun Peak area just north of Ketchum. Management of this large area would emphasize unspoiled connections to wide-open spaces and landscapes. While activities that already take place here could continue—including hunting, horseback riding, hiking and all-terrain vehicle riding—no new facilities, roads or trails would be constructed. The emphasis would be on preserving the primitive nature of the area. Some rerouting of roads, connecting of loops and identifying of dispersed camping locations could take place.

Lee's Gulch-Bunker Hill: As the name implies, this moderate-sized management area is proposed in the rolling hills of the Lee's Gulch and Bunker Hill areas southwest of Bellevue. Management would emphasize single-track, loop and cross-country horseback riding opportunities in a natural, primitive area for local horseback riders. While the area would also be open to hikers, recreational facilities built here would accommodate equestrian needs.

Martin Canyon Shooting Range: This small recreation management zone located east of Bellevue would provide a high-powered, target shooting area for local residents. New facilities would ensure the safety of visitors and those traveling through the drainage.

Ohio Gulch Motocross Area: This designation would provide for continued motocross use in this small area. The management emphasis here would continue an existing partnership with a local motorcycle club to keep the area in its current state. The new travel plan indicates a need to identify appropriate seasons of use.

Red Devil-Quigley zone: This small area immediately east of Hailey on both sides of Quigley Gulch would be a hiking-only area under the proposed travel plan. Under the proposal, loop-hiking opportunities connecting with the community trail system in Hailey could be provided.

Rotarun East zone: This moderate-sized area extends from Hailey west to the Rotarun ski area and from Croy Canyon north to Deer Creek. Well-known features in the area include Carbonate Mountain, the majority of which is private land, and Democrat Gulch. Management of the area would emphasize non-motorized single-track mountain biking and hiking opportunities in a family-friendly atmosphere.

Rotarun Proper zone: Management of this small area adjacent to the Rotarun ski area would include the establishment of a trailhead for mountain bikers and motorcycle riders. Riding opportunities would include a motocross track for entry-level riders and challenging single-track trails. Unsustainable roads and trails in the area would be rehabilitated.

Rotarun West-Cove Creek: The management emphasis of this moderate-sized area located west of the Rotarun ski area in the vicinity of Cove Creek would provide motorized single-track and loop trail opportunities. The proposal suggests the expanded trail network could connect north to Sawtooth National Forest trails through the Camp Creek and Wolftone saddle areas.

Sun Peak zone: Management of this small area north of Ketchum would provide for continued hiking opportunities in a challenging and scenic location. The proposal indicates a need to replace an existing user-created trail with one that is more sustainable in design.

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