The U.S. Forest Service is waiting for a court decision on a lawsuit to decide whether to proceed with construction of a 4.5-mile trail between Stanley and Redfish Lake.
In the planning phase since 2013, the trail project was approved in June 2017 by Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ranger Kirk Flannigan. The $1.4 million trail would be open to nonmotorized traffic in the summer and snow machines in the winter, and would serve a safety function by taking travelers off the narrow shoulder of state Highway 75 south of Stanley. The plan calls for a 6.5-foot-wide path composed of compacted gravel and natural surfaces. It would comply with Forest Service guidelines for accessibility by handicapped people. In an interview, Flannigan said the trail is at “a different development scale” than typical national forest trails are.
As planned, the trail would cross over about a mile and a half of the 1,781-acre Sawtooth Mountain Ranch, which is adjacent to the southern end of Stanley.
Ranch owner David Boren and his wife, Lynn Arnone, residents of Boise, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boise on April 9 seeking to have the project decision voided. The suit acknowledges that the U.S. Forest Service holds the right to build a trail under a conservation easement granted by a previous owner in 2005. However, the plaintiffs claim that the proposed trail deviates from the location granted in the easement. They also object to the size and extent of development of the trail, claiming it is inconsistent with the type of primitive trail common on the SNRA.
The complaint states that in a letter to the plaintiffs dated April 9, Flannigan apologized that any “general illustration” of the trail in the decision memo “has caused confusion” and said the trail “will be developed completely within the easement” across the property.
The suit seeks an injunction against construction of the trail. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for June 3.
In a brief filed May 24, the Idaho Conservation League requested that the court accept a declaration by Public Lands Director John Robison in support of the trail project.
“The trail will allow people of all abilities to experience the SNRA values in ways that they are not likely otherwise able to,” Robison stated in his declaration.
Flannigan said a crew started work this week on a section of the trail at the Alpine Way trailhead just south of the Stanley Ranger Station, where a quarter-mile portion of a road is being decommissioned.
“We were going to do that anyway,” he said. “We’ll have the hearing and then we’ll wait for a court decision. Hopefully, that will come toward the middle of June and we’ll go from there.”