Officials from the Black Hills National Forest have unveiled a new proposal process for non-motorized hiking and biking trails, reports the Rapid City Journal. The 29-page Non-Motorized Trail Strategy document released includes a five-step proposal process and a compilation of Black Hills trail statistics.
Before this proposal process was outlined, there was no official process for trail advocates to submit proposals for new trails. Conflicts between these advocates and forest managers increased in recent years as the number of unauthorized trails increased. In 2016, Black Hills National Forest Mystic District Ranger Ruth Esperance threated to seek criminal prosecution of unauthorized trail builders, which caused backlash from users, who accused forest managers of inaction on trail proposals.
Forest officials turned to their citizen advisory group, the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board, for assistance in resolving these conflicts. The board appointed a special working group, which conducted a public survey and informed the eventual Non-Motorized Trail Strategy.
Black Hills Trails, a nonprofit organization, plans to submit a proposal to add existing, but unauthorized, Storm Mountain trail system near Rockerville to the official trail system. These trails are between 15 and 20 miles long and have been used frequently by the public in the years since their original construction.
Once submitted to forest officials, proposals will be subject to a five-step review process, which considers a number of factors including estimated construction costs, potential environmental effects, and long-term maintenance plans. This review will be conducted privately. Following the initial review, the forest supervisor would then determine whether to advance the proposal to a public review process, to be conducted under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act, followed by an eventual ruling on the future of the proposal.
The new trail strategy does not include a deadline for final decisions, which is a cause for concern among trail advocates. Black Hills National Forest recreation and lands program manager Annie Apodaca says that the process could take several months or longer. Apodaca continued that sufficient review time is necessary to avoid building trails that are environmentally unsound, unsafe for public use, or inviable for long-term maintenance by forest officials.
Apodaca and other forest officials are hopeful that this new system will help enforce forest protocols while also allowing trail enthusiasts the opportunity to propose new trails. There has been a great demand for new trail systems, and advocates are excited to test the new proposal process.
Find more information about sports and recreation in the region in the Black Hills Knowledge Network news archive.