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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Rangers crack down on rogue trail

ĎCitizen trailsí becoming a growing public lands problem

Express Staff Writer

A new single-track trail in Adams Gulch was closed recently almost as quickly as it was opened. That is because it was built last fall or this spring without permission from the U.S. Forest Service.

Some of the trails local residents enjoy on a regular basis have been illegally built. On Saturday morning, Hailey resident Heidi Fitch enjoyed a jog on a citizen-built trail that ascends the south face of Carbonate Mountain. The trail is almost entirely on private property. Express photo by David N. Seelig

The Forest Service and a local trails advocacy group have posted the trail closed, but what they really need is cooperation from the biking, hiking and running public.

"What weíre hoping to do is get the public cooperation until the (environmental study) process is done," said Steve Deffe, a member of Big Wood Backcountry Trails.

The Adams Gulch trail is not an isolated example.

According to public land managers, citizen-built trails are popping up across the country. Bikers, hikers and ATV riders alike have built them. Locally, the trail ascending Sun Peak from Trail Creek Road is an example. The meandering trail ascending the south side of Carbonate Mountain in Hailey is another, though it was built on private property rather than public land.

Another trail has been pioneered by citizens on the north side of Croy Creek Road, west of Hailey. It has created problems for the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley because trail users are disturbing animals there. It also crosses public and private property.

"The take-home message is, respect property," said John Kurtz, an outdoor recreation planner with the Bureau of Land Managementís Shoshone Field Office.

When Forest Service or BLM crews contemplate a new trail, there is a process they follow to attempt avoiding resource damage and unnecessary environmental impacts.

"The National Environmental Policy Act requires that before government takes action it looks at the consequences to the resources, the whole range of natural resources," said Joe Miczulski, a recreation program manager for the Sawtooth National Forestís Ketchum Ranger District.

As an example, Miczulski said a portion of the new Adams Gulch trail traverses a steep gully without regard for potential erosion. As the banks of the gully erode, the sediment could fall into the gully. When snow melts, it could wash the sediment into the creek. It could ultimately find its way into the Big Wood River and affect water quality and fish habitat.

"Itís not that the idea of the trail is bad, but the current execution of it compromises the resources and the people who use it, frankly," Miczulski said.

The Adams Gulch trail actually had legal origins. Two local residents asked Forest Service officials last summer to consider a new trail, and they were told to flag the route they proposed so forest managers could evaluate it. Some sections followed a game trail. Other sections crossed swaths of sagebrush.

Sometime between last fall and this spring, someone cut down a few trees and used some tools to dig out portions of the trail. As spring progressed, more people have discovered the new path, and it has quickly become well traveled. What was practically invisible two weeks ago is now a prominent spur, Deffe said.

"This trail started as part of a legitimate process," said Chris Lehman, a member of Big Wood Backcountry Trails. "We want people to know that if they want to get new trails, thereís a process to follow."

Miczulski said the Forest Service is beginning the process of evaluating the trail, but it still could be some time before a green light is given to local trail users. In the meantime, the trail will be posted with signs from Big Wood Backcountry Trails.

"We just need to remain patient, chill out for a while and respect the closure," Lehman said. "Itís not just closed. Weíre working toward opening it."

Additionally, several other trail projects are ongoing. Kurtz said the BLM is evaluating new trail options for Sun Peak and out Croy Creek. Miczulski said the Forest Service is working on trail re-routes in Greenhorn Gulch and on the Warm Springs Ridge Trail.

In the end, regulating the construction of "citizen trails" is up to citizens, Kurtz said.

"If you see someone building trails or degrading trails, talk with them or notify the agencies," he said. "Itís just as much the responsibility of the community as it is the agency."


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