SHERIDAN — Finding a trail to hike or bike is not difficult in Sheridan County. They criss-cross the mountains, run along Soldier Ridge northwest of Sheridan and meander along creeks and through parks all over town. But for those seeking a different kind of trail — one for their kayak, raft or canoe — area “water trails” like the Tongue River and Little and Big Goose creeks come to mind less readily than a local recreation group would like.
That is why the Sheridan Community Land Trust Recreation Work Group, comprised of more than 20 volunteers representing various non-motorized recreation interests, is working with the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program to compile an assessment of navigable water in northwest Sheridan County.
The end goal of the Water Trails Assessment is to enhance the experiences of local residents and visitors on the region’s public waterways. The assessment will provide information and support for future investments by any entity interested in improving area waterways for public recreation while promoting community stewardship of this valuable resource, according to a media release about the assessment.
Potential projects could include enhanced access sites, hazard removal, new boater-specific signage on the waterways and published information specific to boating.
“If people are not from here or didn’t grow up here, they may not know what great opportunities are here. We think that by improving safety and getting knowledge out there, folks will see our local waterways as the recreation opportunities they really are,” SCLT Executive Director Colin Betzler said.
“A lot of people are interested in floating as recreation, but they seem to have found what’s known and what’s comfortable,” Betzler continued. “Our natural tendency is to not float a new stretch we’ve never been down. We’re trying to take that guesswork out of it and put organization to it.”
The assessment will inventory existing conditions on navigable and publicly accessible sections of Big Goose Creek, Little Goose Creek, Goose Creek and the Tongue River through research, on-the-water observations and public surveys.
The public surveys will ensure that the assessment reflects the needs and interests of the community. Anyone who floats local waterways is encouraged to visit surveymonkey.com/s/JustPaddle to complete a short survey (10 minutes to complete) and provide valuable input that will be used as background and framing for the Water Trail Assessment.
As of Friday, Betzler said the recreation group was nearly finished with physical inventories of approximately 70 miles of navigable river and creek. This included the Tongue River from the canyon to the state line (and unofficially into Montana and the Tongue River Reservoir) and Big Goose, Little Goose and Goose creeks.
The physical inventory assessed existing conditions such as ease of access at access points, in-stream hazards such as concrete, old cars and other impediments to public safety and access on the waterway, water levels and other factors affecting floatability, Betzler said.
Betzler said the SCLT Recreation Work Group has received technical assistance through a grant from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program for two years now. No funding is involved in the grant. The original idea for assessing the area’s waterways was found in the county’s comprehensive plan, which identified potential water trails.
Once the assessment is finalized, it can be used by the city, county and recreation-minded groups to enhance the area’s water trails for use by locals and tourists alike.
“As we finish and finalize that plan, we can identify what really is the top priority and the ‘lowest hanging fruit’ for initial projects,” Betzler said. “ We would love for those coming to Sheridan to put our water trails on their list of to-dos. If we can put together a water trail where someone can spend a night or two nights on our streams, it would make us an even greater destination.”
• The public is invited to complete a 10-minute survey on Sheridan County’s water trail system at www.surveymonkey.com/s/JustPaddle.