SHERIDAN — Implementation of a plan to enhance and construct trails around Story remains on hold due to opposition from Story residents.
In 2013, the Wyoming Rural Development Council published a community assessment report that noted while Story’s landscape, climate and location were ideal for trail-related recreation, the area lacked developed pathways and trails.
According to a summary provided in the Story Wyoming Conceptual Trails Plan, the community assessment indicated residents expressed interest in developing non-motorized paths that would connect businesses, neighborhoods and schools throughout the community as well as developing trails that increase access to nearby public lands.
In response to that assessment, the Story Community Fund contracted the Sheridan Community Land Trust and Trail Solutions to develop the Story Wyoming Conceptual Trails Plan. Rather than prescribe trail routes in the Story area, the plan identified “zones of potential trail development,”areas that can accommodate trails for multiple uses — motorized or walking trails, for instance — and of different designs.
How, and if, those areas would be developed would depend on feedback from Story residents.
“The conceptual plan does a good job of laying out what’s possible based on physical space,” said Brad Bauer, the executive director of the SCLT. “But certainly…what is actually going to be built, if anything, is going to be based on community interest and appetite and direction given.”
But the implementation of the plan has hit a snag because of the community response, according to former SCF chair Patrick Morgan.
“We have some people here in town that don’t want to see any change in Story,” Morgan said.
Morgan explained that during the SCF’s outreach efforts to solicit feedback on the implementation of the trail plan, some Story residents have voiced opposition to moving forward with the plan.
The citizen opposition presents a complicated roadblock in Story because it is an unincorporated community and does not have a local government. As a result, there is no city council that can vote to implement the plan and there is no central community entity that can facilitate debate over the plan.
Morgan claims that many of the residents opposing implementing sections of the trail plan are citing misinformation like implementing the plan would raise taxes, or that the proposed trails would cut through private property.
But because Story does not have a central community organization, extending the SCF’s outreach efforts to the entire community has proven difficult.
“Basically our Lions Club, our women’s club, our garden club, those are the main people in town who have an interconnected network,” Morgan said. “So people that aren’t in those groups don’t always [hear the latest updates].”
Morgan admitted that the SCF could have done a better job with its initial outreach efforts and said the group is ramping up its information campaign.
In the meantime, however, backlash against the group has gotten so fierce that Morgan, who was serving as the SCF’s chair, decided to resign from the group.
“Because I’m a business owner, I tend to try and stay neutral,” Morgan said. “People were seeing me as part of the problem so I decided to step aside for awhile until things calm down and get resolved.”
The conceptual trails plan identifies seven zones of potential trail development. Morgan said the SCF is looking to move forward on developing two of them. The first portion involves building shoulders onto North Piney Road and Fish Hatchery Road in town, which Morgan said would improve community safety.
“There are no shoulders on those roads so people are walking in the traffic lane,” Morgan said. “There have been a lot of near misses out here.”
Morgan said the plan calls for the town to add a 5-foot wide shoulder on Fish Hatchery Road from Story Park to the Story School and a 5-foot wide shoulder on North Piney Road from the Story School to Loucks Street.
The second portion of the plan would tack on to a trail construction project Fort Phil Kearny is undertaking this summer, with an expected completion date in September. The Story Wyoming Conceptual Trails Plan recommends constructing trails around story that connect to the existing trail system near Fort Phil Kearny. Morgan said this would enhance recreation activities in the area and could increase tourism revenue.
Implementing these plans would require the SCF to secure funding, but Morgan said there are several grant opportunities around the state for which he believes the trail improvement plans would qualify.
Before the SCF can move forward on any plans, though, it will have to win community support. Morgan said the SCF is working to schedule a town hall meeting for early July to discuss the plans with Story residents.