The Blaine County commissioners were eager to find alternatives Tuesday to a stalled BLM travel management plan for access to about 137,000 acres of public land in the Wood River Valley, but they’re looking for more information—and public input—before making a recommendation to the agency.
The board held a pair of hearings on June 18 to revisit work that was drafted based on public comments on the original travel management plan, which was halted in April by a directive of the Department of the Interior stopping development of all such projects nationwide, except those based on court order. The move casts doubt on the future of the comprehensive approach to governing use on BLM lands from Willow Creek in the west to the Little Wood River in the east, between U.S. Highway 20 in the south and the Sawtooth National Forest in the north.
Planning for that began in 2017, and was “about 90 percent done” when word came down from Washington to stop this spring, according to Commissioner Angenie McCleary. It represented the second failed attempt at a full-scale plan; initial overtures began at least a decade ago.
None of the three commissioners want to see that work collect dust—and they think there’s room for local direction, and smaller-scale alternatives.
All-inclusive travel management plans, which allow the agency to revamp uses of existing trails, as well as build new ones, are off the table. But an environmental assessment, which only considers construction of new trails, could be a viable option.
“We need to decide where we go from here,” McCleary told the 40 or so people gathered at the Community Campus on Tuesday night. “Fortunately, it seems like the Department of the Interior really wants to hear from local communities.
“It would be a different scope and a different process, but hopefully it would allow us to use some of the work that has been done.”
To that end, BLM Shoshone Field Office Manager Codie Martin and Outdoor Recreation Planner John Kurtz presented a trio of options developed over the past two years based on local input and a suite of criteria required by federal law, including ecological, economic, historical and cultural considerations.
Those alternatives ranged from as much as 120 miles of new trails to as few as 15, with the leading option, named Option D, in between with 78 miles. Most of the planning focuses on creating new networks in the south valley surrounding high-traffic hubs in Hailey and Bellevue, including Quigley Canyon, Croy Canyon, Colorado Gulch and nearby drainages.
Previously, many of those prospective trails were proposed with specific uses in mind. Under the BLM’s current leadership, restricting uses may be considered restricting ac-cess—and not an option.
“This administration is big on all forms of access—motorized, non-motorized, equestrian, you name it,” Martin said. “I can’t guarantee you that something would be for one type of use, and not all.
“But, the BLM’s not the gatekeeper at all the trailheads here. There’s private land, city land, county land—those entities determine what kind of uses can take place on BLM land.”
In other words: A tailored recommendation from the county could function as a de facto decision
on allowable uses for new trails.
This week, most of the objection was focused on motorized traffic, like dirt bikes and ATVs. Residents of Indian Creek were particularly vocal, objecting to a proposed vehicular trail between the high-end subdivision and Ohio Gulch that appeared on all three designs. That trail, residents say, represents a fire hazard, a disruption to migrating wildlife and a nuisance to neighbors.
Environmental assessments are subject to a full-scale review under the National Environmental Policy Act, commonly called the “NEPA process,” throughout which residents can voice their grievances.
“We get comments for and against on nearly every aspect of this,” Martin said.
Once directed by the county, Martin and his staff are poised to reboot the planning process to develop a new range of options—but progress won’t be immediate.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t just have the money to build it, but also maintain it,” he said, “Because our funding isn’t going up—it’s going down.
“It’s not feasible to go out and do this next year.”
Still, the county wants to keep the process moving. Commissioner Jacob Greenberg told the board that he’d look for a date in either July or August to draft a formal recommendation to the BLM this summer.
“As Hailey’s grown and Bellevue’s grown, I see a real desire to make these connections,” Commissioner Dick Fosbury said. “People are going to go out there, and it’s our job to work with the BLM to make sure it’s done in a controlled, managed way.
“I understand that the process is important, though there are some things that are simply logical. I think we can come up with enough options to evaluate from north valley to south, east to west.”