Chocolate Gulch Sign

Since 1995, county leaders have struggled to address high foot traffic at the Chocolate Gulch hiking trail north of Ketchum, which links up with the Oregon Gulch and Fox Creek trail systems.

Trailhead parking is still a problem in the Chocolate Gulch neighborhood north of Ketchum, residents say, but some property owners and county officials are optimistic a new set of signs for designating parking areas in the subdivision will ease the problem.

According to County Floodplain Manager Kristine Hilt, the posted signs will not imply county action if there are parking violations, but do encourage people to park in specific areas only.

“This is fine, as long as the community and property owners don’t expect us to come tow people,” Hilt said, citing an opinion from Blaine County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Graves.

Hilt said that the signage will at first be only a “strong warning” and that neither the county, nor the Sheriff’s Office will be issuing tickets for violations of the signs.

“This is just a first step to concentrate parking, so it’s not down the streets blocking people’s driveways,” Hilt said.

Conflict between landowners and visitors at Chocolate Gulch has been simmering since the 1990s, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson told the Express when the issue arose again last fall. Once the five-car parking lot fills, he said, cars will spill onto Black Bear Road, Chocolate Gulch Road and Polaris Road as they’ve done for 27 years.

Recently, increased interest in outdoor recreation has brought the issue to a head. The Chocolate Gulch trailhead, forking out from the secluded Wood River Estates Subdivision, remains a popular route to access the extensive trail network north of Ketchum.

The commissioners agreed that if the signage does not deter problematic parking that a potential parking ordinance could be implemented in the area, primarily to provide a lane for emergency services.

“We are headed to adopting a specific policy to manage parking,” Commissioner Dick Fosbury said. “[The issue] in these circumstances is emergency access, so we may need to enforce it to ensure we provide adequate access in case of emergency.” 

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