Wednesday, July 31, 2013

National monument proposal triggers trail-use concerns

Boulder White Clouds trail shared by bikes, motorcycles and horses

Express Staff Writer

   It remains to be seen whether a proposed national monument designation for the Boulder and White Cloud mountains would restrict motorized access on some trails in vast roadless area southeast of Stanley and north of Sun Valley.
    Public comment from trail users would be used to establish a management plan, should the area receive such a designation under the Obama administration.
    Of the 136 national monuments in the United States, Idaho has three: Craters of the Moon National Monument near Arco, Minidoka National Monument near Rupert and the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.
    Much of the area covered by the Boulder and White Cloud mountains is included in the 750,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area. That designation protects it from development that would substantially impair its scenic and recreational values.
    However, many conservationists have feared an expansion of motorized recreational use in the area, and have advocated wilderness designation for the Boulder-White Clouds to prevent that.
    Yet Bellevue resident and motorcycling enthusiast Mitch Marcroft said the opposite has been happening for a long time.
    “There are a lot of trails and roads that have been closed off to us,” said Marcroft, who has lived his entire life in southern Idaho. “They have gone back to single-track and non-motorized. We are getting more limited every year. It is definitely an issue.”
    Marcroft said motorcyclists often help clear trails that Forest Service personnel can’t get to in early spring because motorcycles have the capacity to carry equipment. He said a local motor-sports group has rebuilt about a mile of trail in Rooks Creek west of Warm Springs that was destroyed by flood after the Castle Rock Fire six years ago.
    “The motorized group likes to work with everybody,” Marcroft said.
    One trail deep in the proposed national monument area, known as the Frog Lake Loop, is open to mountain bikes, horses and motorcycles.     
    The 24-mile trail provides spectacular views of Castle Peak and access to alpine lakes. The single-track trail, rocky in many sections, can more easily be traversed by horse or motorcycle. Under a proposed wilderness designation that has languished in Congress for a decade, it would be closed to motorcycles.
    The national monument status is seen as a compromise that could help achieve similar conservation management objectives.
    Marcroft rode his motorcycle on Frog Lake Loop last fall. Brett Stevenson, executive director of the Wood River Bike Coalition, has also ridden the Frog Lake Loop, on a mountain bike.
    “I’m excited about the [proposed] national monument designation,” Stevenson said. “It would provide more flexibility than a wilderness designation for low-impact recreation, which would coincide well with conservation interests.”
    Should a national monument proclamation be made by Obama between now and 2016, stakeholders from motorized and non-motorized recreation communities, as well as ranchers, conservationists and other groups, would come to the table to form a management plan for the area. A management plan would then be completed within three years. The national monument would then likely be managed jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.
    In 1996, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, covering more than 1.9 million acres, was created under the Bill Clinton administration.
    National monument spokesman Larry Crutchfield said the travel management plan for the area, completed by three separate jurisdictions in 1996, restricted bikes, cars and automobiles from traveling off designated routes, and on many routes that led to private ranch property, power lines or other infrastructure.
    “In some cases, ranchers were concerned about recreational users going to their stock water tanks,” Crutchfield said.
    Today, there are 964 miles of roads and trails within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument open to motorized travel.
    “But the horses can go anywhere,” Crutchfield said.
Tony Evans:

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