SHERIDAN —The Bighorn National Forest service released a draft environmental assessment of the proposed Red Grade Trails project Friday, which would build approximately 15 miles of non-motorized trails connected to the Red Grade Trails system.
The draft report shows the results of a detailed study the Bighorn Forest Service, in conjunction with the Sheridan Community Land Trust, conducted to disclose the potential environmental impacts of the proposed trails extension and give the public an opportunity to weigh in on the project and its effects.
The publication of the draft report opens a 30-day comment period, during which Sheridan County residents can submit their feedback. Public comments will inform the final draft of the report and the decision on whether to authorize the project, which will be made by Bighorn National Forest Supervisor Andrew Johnson.
Use of Red Grade Trails has increased dramatically in the past two decades, according to the report, and that increased traffic has created more demand for non-motorized trails in the Red Grade system. To meet that demand, The Sheridan Community Land Trust worked with Sheridan County to put together the proposed trail extension project and submitted a special use application to the forest service for use of National Forest lands.
The environmental assessment is a necessary step toward achieving that authorization.
Sara Evans Kirol, a trails coordinator for the Bighorn National Forest’s Tongue River Ranger District, said the report compiles analyses of the project from wildlife, aquatics, heritage, archeology, recreation and timber and fire specialists.
The interdisciplinary analysis in the draft environmental assessments concluded that the proposed project would not create any issues that would raise National Environmental Policy Act concerns. However, Evans Kirol said the assessment is also intended to address concerns county residents raised during the evaluation.
“We took the public’s input as well and used the assessment to analyze some of the issues they raised,” Evans Kirol said.
Public concerns included potential disruptions to wildlife and vegetation in the are and road deterioration due to increased traffic.
The assessment does not identify any glaring issues related to those concerns, either. For instance, the report notes that there is already a significant amount of human activity in the area and the project is therefore unlikely to introduce new disruptions.
But ultimately, Evans Kirol said, the report and the comments it generates are just information for Johnson to use in making his final determination on the project.
Sheridan County Land Trust Executive Director Brad Bauer said his organization would work with the county to develop and maintain the trails if and when their proposal is approved.
“We’re eager to see the results,” Bauer said. “And if the decision is favorable, we’ll start to fundraise and develop the trails themselves.”
The full environmental assessment is available on the Bighorn National Forest website.