Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New trails proposed near Galena

Express Staff Writer

Supporters of a plan to create a designated system of non-motorized trails in the hills surrounding Galena Lodge will present their proposal to officials with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area within several weeks.

Altogether, the backcountry trail system would include 60 miles of single-track pathways that would be open to equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers. The large area where the trail system would be built is 20 miles northwest of Ketchum in portions of the Smoky and Boulder mountains.

A map of the proposal shows the trails on both sides of state Highway 75 in the upper Big Wood River drainage below Galena Summit.

On Tuesday, Chris Leman, spokesman for Wood River Valley trails advocacy group Big Wood Backcountry Trails, presented the plan to the Blaine County Commission.

Leman said the proposal would improve the current system of non-motorized, warm-season dirt trails that exist in the Galena Lodge area. For now, trails in the area follow a system of rough access routes that were used by early miners, stockmen and loggers, he said.

For this reason, most of the trails are steep and rutted and for the most part are not suitable for beginner or intermediate-level trail users.

Of the 60 miles of trails the plan envisions, 36 miles of trail would be new. The remaining 24 miles of trail would use existing pathways.

The plan also envisions decommissioning some non-system roads and trails in the area that the SNRA doesn't recognize in its travel plan. Many of these paths are prone to erosion and are unsustainable, Leman said.

"These aren't really appropriate for recreation," he said.

Several new trailheads would also be built as part of the trail system.

While most of the trails would be designated for a particular non-motorized use like mountain biking, hiking or horseback riding, none of these uses would be prohibited from any of the trails, Leman said. The priority use would simply designate what types of recreational amenities would be built at particular trails.

"The trails would be designated with particular users in mind," he said.

Leman said expert trail designers from the International Mountain Bicycling Association helped draw up the masterplan for the trail system, which will be presented to SNRA officials to consider. Prior to making a decision on the proposal, the plan will have to undergo a rigorous environmental assessment.

There exists one major roadblock that could derail the entire proposal.

Unless rewritten to accommodate the proposed trails, the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act being promoted by Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, could stop the plan dead in its tracks. Under the CIEDRA bill, which Simpson reintroduced into the U.S. Congress in early 2007, a new 503,737-acre Boulder White Clouds Management Area would be established.

As drafted, the management area would cover all of the White Cloud and Boulder mountains immediately east of state Highway 75 from Stanley to Ketchum. So, the portion of the proposed trail system east of the highway could not be constructed under CIEDRA. Within the large management area no new roads or trails could be created.

The management area would surround 318,765 acres of new wilderness CIEDRA designates in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains. The bill only allows existing roads and trails in the management area to be rebuilt or rerouted to protect natural resources.

CIEDRA supporter Linn Kincannon, central Idaho director of the Idaho Conservation League, spoke in favor of the trail system on Tuesday. But she said supporters of the trail network will have to work fast if they want to get Simpson to consider rewriting the portion of the bill to allow the trail system to proceed.

"I support this," she said.

Kincannon said supporters of CIEDRA are "very hopeful" that the bill will be approved this year.

All three members of the Blaine County Commission voiced support for the proposed trail system as well as for making the needed changes to the CIEDRA legislation.

"It is the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act. I would think something like this (trail system) could fit in there," County Commissioner Larry Schoen said.

On the advice of Leman, Kincannon and others, the county commissioners agreed to draft a resolution supporting the construction of the trail system. The commissioners also indicated they would be sending a letter of support for the trail system to SNRA officials.

In the weeks ahead, supporters of the trail system will also be working with the county to contact Simpson's office to inquire about the possibility of rewriting portions of the CIEDRA legislation to accommodate the proposal.

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