SHERIDAN — Sheridan Community Land Trust leads the charge for improving, maintaining and extending the Red Grade trail system off of Highway 26 in Big Horn. In the next phase of trail creation, though, the U.S. Forest Service will play a large part.
Sheridan County commissioners approved the submittal of a transportation and utilities systems and facilities on federal lands application to the USFS last June, starting the environmental assessment and public comment processes.
USFS employees completed baseline surveys over the last couple summers and will use those findings to craft reports addressing any issues.
“They actually helped us find and guide the process we’re doing right now in writing reports,” said Sara Evans Kirol, trails coordinator and public information officer for the Tongue Ranger District. “We have to speak to all those issues that were brought up [in our reports].”
SCLT executive director Brad Bauer said his organization received mostly positive feedback.
“Some of it is constructive criticism, things that we can change, how we can make improvements to it, and we’ve tried to weigh those into this proposal as much as possible,” Bauer said.
Evans Kirol said people remained pleased with the plan to add more trail access for non-motorized vehicles along Red Grade Road. With non-motorized access comes a variety of users on the same trails, like mountain bikers and those on horseback.
“User conflict is a big one we’re going to be looking at,” Evans Kirol said. “Increased use was another [concern] people brought up, so we’ll be looking at that.”
The new trails will help separate the two types of uses.
“A lot of people use the road for non-motorized activity, so they’re excited that it’s giving the non-motorized use an option to get away from the motorized,” Evans Kirol said. “In turn, the other motorized doesn’t have to deal with the non-motorized on the road.”
Right now, several of the trails stemming off the main road dead end or lead to private property. Closing out those trails and creating new ones creates concern for disrupting existing habitats.
“Any time you introduce a new trail system you’re potentially fragmenting thehabitat,” Evans Kirol said.
Those concerns will be addressed by professionals working on the reports. The team of specialists includes archaeologists, wildlife biologists, plant and range specialists, engineering and timber shops and fire and fuels specialists.
Trails management, recreation and visual resource management experts will also contribute to the reporting.
Evans Kirol anticipates the professionals collecting and finalizing the environmental analysis by the end of the fiscal year, around September or October.
The report draft then goes out to the public for comment and review, as well as to a deciding official who makes the final decision on the project based on the analysis.
Until the review period, Bauer continues to push use of the trails in existence. While SCLT and Forest Service employees always encourage Leave No Trace policies, SCLT hired a summer trail technician — Jared Koenig — to help maintain and clean trails on Red Grade.
“If you see him, say hi to him,” Bauer said. “He’s working hard to make sure that the user experience is as positive as possible.”
The environmental analysis will be available for public comment this fall, but Bauer welcomes any feedback, informal or otherwise, at any time.