SHERIDAN — Exhilaration and concern swept through the droves of people who gathered at the base of the Bighorn Mountains Tuesday to meet with members of the Sheridan Community Land Trust to discuss a proposed new trail system. The first phase of the Red Grade Trail Project will be completed in the coming weeks by constructing a 1.8 mile trail near Red Grade Road south of Big Horn.
Claire Hobbs, the communications and development director for SCLT, said the meet and greet was an opportunity for residents to ask questions and be informed of the upcoming trail project.
“We just wanted to show people what we had planned in the upcoming weeks,” Hobbs said.
Given permission from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, the trail may stretch as far as 34 miles for non-motorized trails. This year, the only trail construction will take place on state land.
The first two loops of the trail project will be completed around Sept. 26. Wildwood Trails Inc.
The entire project will take several years. After releasing a draft environmental assessment for the project in May, the BLM issued a public comment period for the proposed 6.2 miles of trails on BLM land. During that 30-day period, they received 324 comments from the public.
Among the ideas that were dropped from the initial plans is the black diamond extreme mountain biking trail. Other trails were also shifted due to concerns.
“We are taking every comment into consideration,” Hobbs said.
Using the public comments, changes will be made to the BLM portion of the trail project and a draft will be resubmitted sometime next year. People will have an opportunity to comment on the changes during that time.
If the BLM portion goes through, the USFS will conduct a similar process for trails planned on USFS land.
“We are hoping that every summer we have some progress,” Hobbs said.
Colin Betzler, executive director of the SCLT, was fielding many of local residents comments at Tuesday’s public outreach meeting. Many were concerned about environmental impacts, which would likely come from an influx of recreational use in the area.
Betzler told residents that the trail plans for the Red Grade area are still very tentative and preliminary. Developments from government agencies and additional reports could change trail plans at any point in the process, which Betzler said is likely to take more than five years.
“From our perspective, we are just like any other business — we can’t just be crossing our fingers that everything is going to turn out well. We are being very methodical with this,” Betlzer said. “The reason we have shown the entire picture (of the proposed trail system) right off the bat was to be transparent.
“If we open this up next summer and the results are disastrous, and we have really an awful time educating users, keeping trash off the trail, keeping wildfires out, why would we step out and do any more?” he added.