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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of February 26 - March 4, 2003


ATV loop proposed 
from Challis to Arco

Express Staff Writer

A 460-mile loop of all-terrain vehicle routes that would connect Challis, Mackay and Arco is being proposed as a new tourism draw for southeastern Idaho. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation would like to see the loop in place for ATV users by the summer of 2004.

IDPR officials expect to submit the department’s plan for the trail to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management by mid-March. The two agencies, which manage most of the land through which the proposed ATV trail would run, say they would probably take about a year to conduct an environmental review and reach a decision.

ATV use in Idaho is booming—in the five years preceding 2001, off-highway vehicle registrations rose from 27,700 to 55,100.

To provide a place to attract some of those vehicles, the IDPR would like to link existing dirt roads and trails to form a loop that would go southeast from Challis past Mackay to Arco, and then around to the east side of the Lost River Range for a return route back to Challis.

Basically, the western half of the 460-mile loop would proceed south from Challis through the dry foothills of the White Cloud Mountains to the White Knob Mountains, west of Mackay, and continue south over Antelope Creek Pass into BLM rangeland west of Arco.

From Arco, the loop would circle the southern end of the Lost River Range to Howe, and then proceed up the Little Lost River drainage over the Hawley Mountains to the Donkey Hills and the Pahsimeroi River drainage. West of May, the ATV loop would cross the Pahsimeroi Mountains to reach Challis.

One of the trail’s spur loops would take riders through Copper Basin, east of the White Knobs and north of the Pioneer Mountains.

Another spur would take riders over Double Springs Pass—just north of Borah Peak, the state’s highest mountain—in to the top of the Pahsimeroi drainage. And a third spur would travel southeast out of Mackay over Pass Creek in to the top of the Little Lost drainage.

The IDPR has stated that the trail would be a demonstration project for future ATV management throughout Idaho.

The trail would be funded by the state’s Off-highway Vehicle Fund, which collects about $600,000 annually. The department would spend $105,000 to build three parking lots, $9,000 for information kiosks, $6,000 for cattle guards, $37,500 for restrooms and $15,000 for signs. An annual budget of $62,000 is proposed to cover operating costs.

The IDPR held public hearings on the proposed trail on Feb. 4, 5 and 6 in Challis, Mackay and Arco. The approximately 60 comments collected there will be forwarded to the Forest Service and BLM. The IDPR’s comment period ends Friday, Feb. 29, but public comments will again be collected by the Forest Service and BLM once their decision-making process begins.

Dave Claycomb, outdoor recreation program specialist with the IDPR’s Eastern Regional Office in Idaho Falls, said he has not read all the comments, but that sentiment expressed at the public meetings mostly favored the project.

"I think it’s a great idea," Challis Mayor Catherine Becker said in an interview. "It would give more people the chance to see our country and it would be good for business."

Part of the IDPR’s sales pitch is that the trail will stimulate the economies of Challis, Arco and Mackay. The proposed trail is modeled after the 500-mile-long Paiute Trail in south-central Utah, which in 2001 attracted more than 60,000 riders, who spent about $6 million in the area.

But those kinds of numbers scare some of the proposed tails neighbors. Andy Goodwin, a rancher in Mackay and part-time Ketchum resident, said in an interview that he fears the trail will attract so many ATV users that the valleys it runs through will become overwhelmed.

"The people will not stay on those trails," he said. "What’s actually going to happen is that they’re going to give people a main artery from which they can branch out and go wherever they want."

Claycomb said the department is well aware of that possibility and plans to address it. The department has supported a bill now before the Idaho Legislature (House Bill 66) that would allow IDPR employees to issue citations outside of state parks. Claycomb said his department has budgeted enough money to fund two full-time rangers to patrol the ATV trail.

"The off-trail travel is already taking place," he said. "This is an opportunity to eliminate that, to give them a designated route."

A Forest Service travel plan limits off-road travel on the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The BLM is in the process of creating such a plan for the Challis Resource Area. ATV riders who violated those plans could be cited.

But Mackay rancher Keith Hill said he doubts the public agencies will be able to control illegal use, and fears there would be heavy impacts on wildlife, especially elk, on the landscape and on the peace of the valley.

"When the ATVs are out there, you can spot every one of them from the dust clouds," he said.

Hill said most of the other speakers at the Mackay meeting made statements similar to his.

Anyone who would like to rush comments into the mail today, to reach the IDPR by Friday, can send them to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, Box 1876, Idaho Falls, ID 83403.

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