Sheridan offers immediate access to outdoor adventures, whether through local parks, trails or easy access to the Bighorn Mountains.
Being outside is one of the reasons many people visit or choose to live in the Sheridan area, and local leaders are pioneering opportunities for fun in the great outdoors.
Chris Vrba, director of marketing and development for Sheridan Community Land Trust, said residents of Sheridan County are looking for expansion in the ways they enjoy the outdoors.
Vrba said a survey conducted by the Sheridan Recreation District in April revealed that two-thirds of respondents want more hiking and biking trail options in Sheridan.
SCLT maintains the Soldier Ridge trails and the Red Grade Trails System, looking to expand both areas while also maintaining current attractions.
Vrba said with Sheridan being close to the Bighorns, there is an amazing opportunity to enjoy the mountains. The Red Grade Trails are on Wyoming state land and lands owned by Bureau of Land Management, with recently approved expansion into the Bighorn National Forest.
For the trails to be available for use, SCLT needs to ensure trails are properly maintained and kept safe.
Vrba said SCLT is partnering with local businesses to help maintain trails, something Vrba does not see happening in other communities in the state. He gave the example of receiving a mini excavator from EMIT Technologies, a local manufacturing company, during the summer of 2019.
The excavator will be used to help groom, maintain and build trails under SCLT’s control during the summer and will help with slope maintenance at Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area in the winter.
Collaboration with key stakeholders allows SCLT to provide the best service for those using trails under their control and build for the future, making sure the same opportunities will be available.
Making sure a resource lasts can be a difficult job, especially when that resource is a national forest that covers 1.8 million acres of land.
Since the creation of the U.S. Forest Service by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, the roles of the government organization have changed. Originally, USFS oversaw water management and timber production in the national forests. As times changed, responsibilities of the USFS expanded to include regulations such as camping and maintaining natural land and trail maintenance, including climbing trails.
To meet the responsibilities, USFS employees find new ways of addressing issues within the Bighorn Mountains, most of which require collaborating and working with other groups with similar interests.
Bighorn National Forest employees look to maintain trails used by the public. Tensleep Canyon is a popular destination for climbers not just from Wyoming but from around the nation, said Traci Weaver, district ranger of the Powder River Ranger District.
Climbing trails are used by many visitors. Weaver said most enjoy the challenge of trying to find the best foot or hand hold in natural rock, understanding that some areas will be difficult or even unclimbable.
Many of the routes have bolted-in anchors to provide a place for rope to be attached. These are very popular routes.
Within the last year, Bighorn National Forest personnel prohibited construction of new routes after an issue arose involving heavily-manufactured routes.
These routes have multiple holes drilled next to each other in the rocks, creating unnatural foot and hand holds. Adhesive materials are added to the rocks to create handholes, making for an easier climb.
Many climbers take issue using manufactured routes not approved by forest personnel.
Padlocks placed on routes by other climbers shut them down, causing conflict in the climbing community.
Weaver said forest personnel are working with the Bighorn Climbers Association to create a management plan for the area to prevent heavily-manufactured routes and to ensure the area can be used for climbers in the future.
Creating open communication with interested parties has been key, Weaver said. To help bridge the gap between climbers and the USFS, Weaver hired a climbing ranger. This is the first climbing ranger to be utilized by the Bighorn National Forest and possibly by the USFS, Weaver said. She has a background in the National Parks Service that utilized climbing rangers to help manage routes in national parks.
With consistent increases in climbing’s popularity, the ranger will help build relationships between the Powder River Ranger District and the climbing community.
The climbing community and other national forest service offices have been watching the ways events unfold in the Bighorns, Weaver said. With climbing route maintenance being an issue nationwide, the way this situation is handled can help guide other districts through the process. The goal is to create a sustainable plan that allows for the protection of the forest and to allow use of the forest for future generations.
Staff with the Bighorn National Forest aim to bring new techniques to management of public lands. For example, public information officer Sara Evans Kirol said riparian areas have shrunk over the years.
Riparian areas are the vegetation on the edge of waterways. A healthy riparian zone helps a wide variety of organisms, improves water quality and keeps soil in place, preventing erosion and loss of habitat.
In late July, forest employees teamed up with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to build 10 beaver analogue dams. These dams were built along the Grommund and Sourdough creeks.
Naturally occurring materials were used to construct man-made dams that mimic the effects of beaver dams. Lodgepole pine posts were driven into the ground a few feet apart, cutting across the stream and stretching out to a few yards on either side. Freshly cut willow branches were woven between the posts, making a wall. Sod and mud from the surrounding area were used to finish sealing the barrier.
This resulted in a semi-permeable barrier and introduced small ponds into the area, Kirol said. This was done to improve the ecosystem, creating a better habitat for water-loving plants, such as willows. The structure will attract animals that like to feed on these plants, such as moose.
With the water quality improving, more fish will be in the area, along with amphibious creatures such as frogs.
Kirol said these dams are much smaller than actual beaver dams, but the hope is beavers will either move into the area since a good habitat has been started or beavers can be transplanted into the area.
This was a new technique used by the Bighorn National Forest, and now all that is left to do is wait to see how it works out.
Pioneers of the outdoor economy continue to create a lasting environment for ecosystems to thrive and humans to enjoy for years to come.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the fall/winter 2019 edition of Destination Sheridan, the official lifestyle and tourism magazine of Sheridan County, created by The Sheridan Press.
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