The Shoshone National Forest is planning on adding about 35 miles of new mountain bike trails, while also closing some unofficial paths people have been riding for years.
The agency seeks to accommodate a growing user group, with most of the new trails going into the Lander and Dubois areas, Shoshone National Forest spokeswoman Kristie Salzmann said.
The forest released a plan for its Mountain Bike Route Designation Project for public comment Nov. 30, and people can send the agency input through December.
The plan, which calls for 35 miles of new mountain bike trails, is an effort to fulfill a pledge to add more trails, said Salzmann.
The Forest Service made the commitment to mountain bikers when the agency decided in early 2015 to close the Dunoir Special Management Area to bikes. About 6.5 miles of a bike loop crossed through the special management area. That was a problem in managing the Dunoir area for wildlife and wilderness qualities. But closure of the loop meant riders lost a remote-feeling backcountry riding experience.
The new trails will serve that demand, Salzmann said. “The Shoshone as a whole is wild, all our trails outside of wilderness can give you that kind of experience,” she said.
Some of the 35 miles of new trails will be improvement on stock or unmaintained trails and some will be new development, she said.
The majority of the proposed new trails are in the Lander and Dubois areas. In Cody, fewer people bike on forest service land and there is a very nice network of nearby trails on Bureau of Land Management Land, Salzmann said.
John Gallagher, president of the Park County Pedalers, isn’t worried that new trails aren’t planned for Cody.
He is, however, worried about the Shoshone’s plans to close popular trails in the Sunlight Basin as part of its plan for mountain biking.
The Forest Service’s project calls for closing rides that aren’t part of the official trail system, Salzmann said, adding that other forests have issues with cross-country travel on mountain bikes off system trails. On the Shoshone, closing unofficial trails is a pre-emptive measure to make sure biking is limited to trails the forest officially recognizes as part of its system.
Gallagher says his group is not happy. The proposed closures are unexpected and will “change the whole user experience drastically,” he said.
“There is definitely going to be a loss of trail and I’m sure the loss will be superior to anything we gain,” Gallagher said.
It also will be hard to know what trails are legal. There isn’t an easy-to-access database online and many trails in the forest are not marked, Gallagher noted.
Tim Young, executive director of Wyoming Pathways, agrees. Wyoming Pathways is an organization that advocates for better bicycle and walking paths in public right-of ways, and improved recreational opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, running and cross-country skiing on public lands.
Shoshone Forest hasn’t kept accurate maps and it’s hard to find information on what is officially a trail, according to Young. Many users don’t realize their favorite trails aren’t part of the official system. People might suddenly find themselves ticketed for riding something they’ve ridden for 20 years, Young said.
Young is disappointed in how mountain biking has been treated by the Forest Service. After bikes were banned in the Dunoir in 2015 when the Shoshone finalized its resource management plan, the agency started in on a separate travel management plan. But only motorized recreation was studied under that plan, Young said. The agency needs to spend more time understanding what trails exist on the Shoshone, he said.
But the Shoshone plan is not all bad news, especially near Lander, said an area rider. A proposed five-mile trail will create a 22-mile loop taking riders from the Nature Trail in Sinks Canyon State Park up the Brewer’s Trail to Fossil Hill, then down the Sheep Bridge Trail to the Middle Fork Trail and back to the start, said Tony Ferlisi, the USFS Trails Issues Advocate with Lander Cycling.
“It’s going to be a sweet loop on single track,” he said. It will also likely become the area’s flagship trail.
The Lander area also has several unofficial trails, like the Blue Ridge Trail off the Loop Road, that are currently ridden regularly, but could close. The plan calls for all unofficial trails to close. Ferlisi said he is talking with the Forest Service about these trails, hoping they might be added to the official trail network and kept open.
“The whole idea of losing legal access to something we use is a big deal,” he said.
Ferlisi said the Forest Service has been receptive to feedback.
“They are recognizing pretty quickly that there is a user group here that is growing whose voices are becoming a little bit more (loud),” he said. “We want them to get a landscape perspective of what is actually going on—what trails people are actually riding, what are our needs and what do we want?”
Salzmann, the forest service spokeswoman, said the commenting period is the perfect time for people to talk about what trails aren’t part of the system.
“We can’t be everywhere on the forest, so if there is a great trail someone is passionate about, this is their time to provide input so we can look at where it is and see if it’s feasible to add it,” she said.
No matter what happens, Young said the new trails don’t replace the wild experience of riding in the Dunoir.
Ferlisi agrees, but also thinks the outcry over the loss of the Dunoir “was a wake-up call more than anything else, to both the Forest Service and mountain bikers,” he said. “I think this is the best case scenario based on that decision.”