Friday, September 27, 2013

Work begins on new Galena trails

Plan is for 48 miles of summer trail loops

Express Staff Writer

Mountain bikers compete in the annual Galena Grinder race. The Blaine County Recreation District plans to add 30 miles of summer trails to the existing network at Galena. Photo by staff files

   Following final approval by the U.S. Forest Service in mid-August, Blaine County Recreation District trail crews have begun clearing brush for a planned 48-mile summer trail system surrounding Galena Lodge.
    With its extensive network of Nordic ski trails and its savory hot lunches, the historic lodge 23 miles north of Ketchum has long been one of the Wood River Valley’s most cherished winter amenities. Now, recreation planners hope to provide a similar experience for local residents and visitors in the summer.
    The Galena Summer Trails Project will add 30 miles of new trails to 18 miles of existing ones to create a “stacked-loop” non-motorized trail system with beginner-level hiking, biking and equestrian trails close to the lodge and more advanced trails as the loops progress outward. Most of the trail system will be on the east side of state Highway 75.
    “A lot of people describe the Nordic system as world-class, and that’s going to be the goal for this,” said Sawtooth National Recreation Area District Ranger Joby Timm. “I think this is going to be a spectacular addition to the valley.”
    Eric Rector, Recreation District director of trails and facilities, said the impetus for the system was a realization that the valley has few beginner-level hiking and biking trails. He said the concept was proposed by the Big Wood Backcountry Trails organization, and taken to the Forest Service by the Recreation District, which owns Galena Lodge and leases it as a concession on the Sawtooth National Forest.
    A year-long environmental assessment for the project was completed in July.
    “We made it a priority in our planning efforts,” Timm said.
    Rector said the approximately $1 million project will probably take three years to complete.
    Recreation District Executive Director Jim Keating said the district has enough money to complete the first year’s worth of construction, and the district hopes to raise money for the remainder as the project moves along.
    “You can build to what you can fund,” he said.
    Rector said the plan is to work outward from the lodge. He said that even though brush clearing began about two weeks ago, trail construction won’t start until next summer.
    “We’ll keep clearing until the snow makes it time to start grooming [the Nordic trails],” he said.
    Rector said the district has had design help from the International Mountain Biking Association. He said there is a “calculation science” to designing trails of particular grades over particular distances for each level of difficulty. The beginner trails will be about 36 inches wide and the more advanced trails 24 inches.
    According to the Forest Service’s decision document, the newly built trails will include 9.4 miles of beginner trails, 28 miles of intermediate trails and 8.6 miles of advanced trails. Eighteen bridges are approved to be built.
    “I think this will provide people with the full spectrum of opportunities,” Timm said.
    The project will also include expansion and possible paving of the lodge parking area. Two concrete outhouses will be built, one at the parking lot and one across the highway.
    The decision document states that equestrian use will be allowed on all trails, but will be encouraged primarily on trails on the west side of the highway.
    Timm said the system will include informative signs at historic sites near the lodge.
    A closure of nearly 12 miles of trails will be enacted every spring until June 25 to reduce effects on elk calving and deer fawning.
    Timm said sheep grazing in the area will continue, though permitees will be asked to inform the Forest Service when they will be using the area, and that information will be provided to the public.
    He said one goal of the project is to make the lodge profitable in the summer, when it is required to be open under the lease signed between the Forest Service and the Recreation District.
Greg Moore:

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