The Bureau of Land Management released long-anticipated recreation plans for about 137,000 acres of public lands in Blaine County last week, outlining a number of projects to expand hiking, biking and camping opportunities in the southern Wood River Valley over the next few years.
The agency’s final recreation plans—approved by Shoshone Field Office Manager Codie Martin on Friday—govern motorized and nonmotorized use in the Wood River drainage. The entire drainage area spans from Willow Creek on the west to the Little Wood River on the east and from U.S. Highway 20 north to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Martin’s decision approves construction of about 81 miles of new trails, seven new trailheads and 21 new dispersed campsites on BLM land, primarily in the Kelly and Quigley Gulch and Cove Creek areas outside of Hailey and Bellevue.
Of the 81 miles of trail to be built, 57 miles will be open to mountain bikes and e-bikes, 21 miles will be open to motorcycles and about 2 miles will be reserved for nonmotorized users. The BLM will also construct accompanying trailheads and parking areas, as well as roads to reach them.
To protect wintering deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and sage grouse, the BLM will designate annual off-highway restriction areas from Jan. 1 to April 30. Under the agency’s plan, annual restriction areas could apply to 95,630 acres of public land.
“This decision also allows the BLM to … protect wintering wildlife only when conditions warrant and only in areas where animals are congregating,” the agency stated Friday. “This may include any human activity impacting deer and elk during times when they are most vulnerable, between January and April.”
The BLM’s decision last week incorporates feedback received from a number of open houses, public hearings and public-scoping periods beginning in 2017. The entire planning process began around 2005, when the Blaine County commissioners presented concerns to the BLM about increased recreation use, user-created trails and damaged hillsides and riparian areas.
“Public lands, recreation and wildlife are vitally important to Wood River Valley residents and visitors—their input has been integral to this process for several years,” Martin said in a statement. “While it is challenging to completely satisfy the broad spectrum of requests, we are confident that this decision reflects a good compromise.”
The agency will limit campsite development to areas away from residential neighborhoods, such as Cove Creek, Quigley Gulch, Beaver Creek and Sharps Canyon, according to the BLM’s decision of record. Campsites at the mouth of Lees Gulch will not be permitted due to proximity to homes and wildfire danger.
The BLM will construct the new trails, trailheads and dispersed campsites over the next several years as funding and other resources allow, it said. Construction will be funded by the approximately $250,000 in various recreation fees that the Shoshone Field Office collects each year, according to BLM Outdoor Recreational Planner and project lead John Kurtz.
Since 2017, the BLM has considered several trail-creation plans in the Wood River Valley, ranging from as much as 120 miles of new trails to as few as 15, with the leading option—dubbed Option D—falling somewhere in the middle, at around 80 miles.
2021 changes: BLM opens more to e-bikes
Starting this summer, the BLM will implement the following changes to trail systems in Blaine County:
- All trails in Lees Gulch will be designated as nonmotorized “to retain the quiet use currently associated with that area.”
- Croy Creek nonmotorized trails will be opened up to Class 1 (low-speed, pedal-assist), Class 2 (low-speed, throttle-assist) and Class 3 (higher speed, pedal-assist) electric bikes.
- The area between Colorado and Townsend gulches west of Bellevue will be closed to motorized activity from January through April. Nonmotorized winter recreation will be allowed--but not encouraged--in this area, and the BLM will no longer plow the road to the Lees Gulch trailhead.
- The motorized single-track trail connection from Colorado Gulch to Croy Creek will only be accessible from Townsend and Colorado gulches, with a one-way connection rather than a loop.
- The Patterson Peak trail—east of Hailey on a ridge that divides the Quigley Creek and Slaughterhouse Creek drainages—will not be designated nor promoted by the BLM but will remain open to e-bikes and mountain bikes. The agency’s decision not to list Patterson Peak Trail was made in response to “visitor health and safety” concerns and user conflicts, the BLM stated.
- The Quigley/Red Devil trail network will be open to Class 1 (low-speed, pedal-assist) e-bikes and the Red Devil ridgeline trail will be reserved for nonmechanized use.
- The Slaughterhouse and Quigley Canyon trail network will be expanded and open to Class 1 (low-speed, pedal-assist) e-bikes.
- Trail closures will be instituted in a few sections of Lees Gulch, west of Bellevue, and an area south of Kelly Mountain, west of Hailey.
- Trails throughout Colorado and Lees gulches will be largely open to all three e-bike classes, with other sections designated as single-track motorcycle trails.
- Trails will be rerouted throughout Kelly, Wolftone, Ohio and Lees gulches. Once reroutes are complete, existing trails will no longer be available for motorized use.
For a more detailed picture of new trails, campsites and trail closures, visit bit.ly/3074HO4.