Land mines. Dung dunes. Manure mountains.
Whatever you call them, if you’ve spent any time on The Classic Soldier Ridge Trail, you’ve likely had to dodge a cow pie or two. And, from time to time, you may have had to sidestep so many beef patties it might have felt like you were doing agility drills at the NFL Combine.
While they may make for an occasional inconvenience, we like to think of them as regular reminders that ranching and recreation need not be mutually exclusive. Which is why this Valentine’s season, we thought we’d spread some love for something that’s often as looked over as it is stepped over.
Recreation and ranching working hand in glove
The Soldier Ridge Trail System could not have come to fruition without the support of landowners and ranchers who were willing to share their land with the public.
In 2012, ERA Carroll Realty chose a voluntary conservation agreement for 1,154 acres of pasture along Soldier Ridge. Though the business no longer owns the land, the agreement ensures that wide-open views of the Bighorns on the west edge of Sheridan will always be there for everyone to enjoy.
That alone would’ve provided value to the community many times over, but ERA Carroll Realty and the Don Roberts Family, who operate Sheridan Heights Ranch, chose to give the public permanent access along 4 miles of existing two track. In exchange, Sheridan Community Land Trust maintains a trail for public use.
In 2013, that access road became what is known today as The Classic Soldier Ridge Trail — a place where people training for the Bighorn Trail Run can get 8 miles in at sunrise, a family can take a sunset stroll stroller in tow anytime, and cyclists can grind year-round.
Projects herd across the county
Ranching and recreation work hand in glove elsewhere in Sheridan County, too. Three portage areas along the Tongue River Water Trail were made possible because of partnerships with private landowners and Padlock Ranch agreed to allow access for paddlers along Goose Creek — one of 15 such sites we maintain.
While deer are the most likely animal people will encounter grazing along Red Grade Trails, that won’t necessarily be the case in the future. If our proposed trails are approved, folks will have up to 17 new miles of trails to explore and enjoy the forest more easily and more safely. Like anywhere on U.S. Forest Service land, though, you may encounter cattle or sheep grazing — or, quite likely, a few piles of proof a herd had been in the area.
On the “moove” to new trails
By year’s end, nearly 3 new miles of trail will be completed just west of Sheridan. Hidden Hoot Trail will bring users close to the shrubs, willows and wetlands along Gillispie Draw. An additional 2-mile stretch is on the docket for a future build. That span will be called Heights Ranch Trail, a tribute to Sheridan Heights Ranch, whose kindness and cooperation has helped make much of the nearly 10 miles of the Soldier Ridge Trail System possible.
Don’t be surprised when you see it’s not just people who have been on the “moove” at Hidden Hoot and Heights Ranch. We’ve got no beef with sidestepping a cow pie or two, because we know that without them we wouldn’t have such great places to enjoy so close to home.
That’s why we love what they doo; we hope you will, too.
After all, a little bit of “Montucky shoeshine” never hurt anyone.
Chris Vrba is the director of marketing and development at the Sheridan Community Land Trust.