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BCRD Executive Director Mark Davidson and USFS Ranger Kirk Flannigan assess parking at Prairie Creek on Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Parking at two popular skiing, hiking and biking trails in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is about to get more abundant and less risky thanks to the Blaine County Recreation District.

The BCRD has begun construction on new off-highway parking at Prairie Creek and Kendall Gulch for safer year-round recreation in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

The two lots will have access points from state Highway 75 north of Ketchum. Both parking lots are scheduled for completion before the start of the 2021-22 Nordic ski season.

“The new parking lots will provide a safer experience for Nordic skiers this winter by eliminating on-highway parking,” said Eric Rector, Director of Trails and Facilities at BCRD. “In addition, both lots will hold more vehicles, which will help to accommodate the increased interest in winter sports that we are seeing throughout the Wood River Valley.”

The siting and development of the parking lots are a part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Big Wood Travel Management Plan, a multi-phased multi-year project to add more trails, parking and camping opportunities in the area.

At Prairie Creek, located about 5 miles south of Galena Lodge, a 62-space parking area will be constructed with two access points along state Highway 75. The existing on-highway parking area will be removed and rehabilitated with vegetation.

At Kendall Gulch, locally known as “Frostbite Flats,” a 34-space parking area will be constructed that will also have two access points along state Highway 75. The existing highway pullout, located approximately 4 miles north of the Sawtooth NRA Headquarters, will be closed. There will no longer be on-highway parking at either location.

Both locations are popular Nordic skiing destinations within the BCRD’s 200-kilometer winter trail system. The Prairie Creek parking lot will provide access to the 8-kilometer Prairie Creek Trail and 8-kilometer Billy’s Bridge Trail, while both parking lots serve as year-round trailheads for the 32-kilometer Harriman Trail.

The BCRD budgeted $59,500 for both parking areas, with approval from the Forest Service.

“It’s been in the SNRA’s plan to see these two new parking lots built since at least 2018,” said Area Ranger Kirk Flannigan. “They provide additional capacity and increased safety for winter and summer visitors alike. Having a great partner like BCRD helped make this a reality, as they have stepped in to fund and manage the construction of both lots.”

The Blaine County Recreation District is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “enhancing Blaine County’s quality of life by creating healthy, active recreational opportunities for all.”

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area, located north of Ketchum, was set aside by Congress in 1972 to “assure the preservation and protection of the natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values and to provide for the enhancement of the recreation values associated therewith.”

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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