John Kurtz is the BLM Shoshone Field Office outdoor recreation planner.
By JOHN KURTZ
For more than 10 years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been working with partners in the Wood River Valley to create recreational opportunities around Hailey. The path to developing what has become the Croy Creek trail system was filled with unique challenges but also a special opportunity for the BLM to develop a partnership with a community interested in a system of trails on public land.
In 1998, the BLM Shoshone Field Office began receiving requests to develop single-track trails near Hailey. BLM staff began by consulting with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which suggested that establishing trails west of Hailey would impact wildlife the least. The BLM then conducted an inventory of existing roads and trails in cooperation with the Blaine County Recreation District. The BLM also reviewed the Recreation District survey, met with Big Wood Backcountry Trails and interviewed local mountain bike shop owners, the U.S. Forest Service Ketchum District and other members of the Wood River Valley community.
The road and trail inventory showed that most of the existing roads and trails would not satisfy the demand for scenic, short-loop, single-track trails. Most crossed at least one parcel of private property with no established easements. And while there were about 370 miles of system trails on the Sawtooth National Forest, these are generally not open for use until late spring or early summer. Much of the BLM-managed land between Greenhorn Gulch and U.S. Highway 20 had potential for early-spring and late-fall trail opportunities, but there were no designated trails there. Identifying and designing new trail corridors became a priority for the BLM. The challenging part was staying on BLM-managed land while retaining sustainable trail grades. Design work took place in summer 2004, followed by environmental impact analysis. A decision record for the environmental assessment was signed in September 2007.
Meanwhile, the Blaine County Commission initiated a recreation and travel plan, through an assistance agreement with the BLM Shoshone Field Office, to address demand for recreation opportunities in the greater Wood River Valley. It recommended establishing several recreation management zones to address specific activities, experiences and outcomes. This information helped focus the work that Chris Leman, the county's independent contractor, did on final trail design. The BLM then administered a contract for trail construction, using federal funding, a grant from Idaho State Parks and Recreation, and a donation from Big Wood Backcountry Trails.
As we look to the future, the summer of 2010 will see construction of an additional 2.5 miles of non-motorized, mountain bike-specific trails on public land in the Wilson Gulch area using funding allocated to the BLM under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Additionally, Chris Leman along with developer Dave Hennessy and the International Mountain Biking Association have designed another 50 miles of trails in the drainages of Croy Creek, Rock Creek, Lees Gulch, Townsend Gulch, Slaughterhouse Gulch and Quigley Gulch that target hiking, motorcycle riding and equestrian uses. The majority of these trails will be on BLM-managed land, but where proposed routes cross state or private lands, easements and/or maintenance agreements will have to be obtained before the trails can be built. The county has formally requested that the BLM analyze these trail corridors, along with the recreation management zones recommended in the county recreation and travel plan, in a recreation and travel plan for public lands.
The Croy Creek trail network will officially open next spring. Several trail users tried the trails this fall and reported enjoying the quality of the design, construction and experience the trails offer. We are thankful for this and for our ability to provide an initial trail system in the south valley that will serve residents and visitors alike with many individual, social, environmental and economic benefits.