On our public lands, travel management plans are how the U.S. Forest Service provides access for recreationists while protecting resources such as water quality and wildlife.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) just released its Big Wood Travel Management: Draft Environmental Analysis. In it, the SNRA proposes “to revise the existing system of roads and trails open to wheeled, motorized travel within the Big Wood River watershed on approximately 85,000 acres of National Forest System lands within the Sawtooth NRA of the Sawtooth National Forest” and includes the following goals:

  • Update the existing system of roads and motorized trails that provide for public access and recreational travel, considering the overall quantity and quality of opportunities.
  • Manage and reduce resource impacts that are occurring due to wheeled motorized use of roads, trails,and unauthorized travel.
  • Restore unauthorized routes identified as a problem to resources of concern (soil, water, fish, plants, wildlife, heritage, etc.).

As part of the draft environmental assessment, the Forest Service created an interactive story map with its proposed alternative and supporting documents. The environmental assessment is also available for public review and comment.

Our Take on the Big Wood Travel Plan

The Idaho Conservation League is supportive of the overall goals of the Big Wood travel management plan, but some of the proposed solutions are problematic and we think the Forest Service should consider other alternatives.  Once the Forest Service has developed these additional restoration alternatives, the agency can  compare the pros and cons of these alternatives, share the findings with the public,  and then decide what is best.  

To protect water quality and fisheries, the Forest Service has proposed  decommissioning Owl Creek FS Road 181 and other routes as needed. The Forest Service originally proposed converting this route to a nonmotorized trail-which we supported. The latest proposal, however, calls for   closing and renaturalizing the route entirely without providing the usual information the Forest Service uses to support such decisions. We are concerned that this complete closure may be unnecessary. The Forest Service should take a closer look to see if there are ways to upgrade or realign the nonmotorized trail so it doesn’t impact water quality.  

We support the agency’s goal of protecting wet meadows and Gladiator Creek and of improving access to trail 108, but the Forest Service’s proposed solution will likely lead to more problems. The Forest Service should develop alternatives relocating the trailhead to the junction of FS #192 and 189, establishing a parking area partway up Westernhome Road, and incorporating  additional suggestions from the public.

We support the Forest Service’s plan to protect wet meadows by stopping illegal motorized use on cross-country ski corridors. The Forest Service is proposing to gate these corridors in the summer and to keep these corridors available in the winter for cross-country ski trails. However, even after the summer water quality issues are addressed, the Forest Service is also proposing to stop grooming popular ski trails like North Cherry Creek, which doesn’t appear to be necessary at this point. The Forest Service should analyze the option of keeping North Cherry Creek and other ski trails available for winter grooming and see if it is possible to avoid any impacts by using additional design features or realigning the trails to within a quarter-mile of the current location.

We support the Forest Service’s plan to allow dispersed camping only at designated sites and rehabilitate user-created sites in sensitive areas. We recommend that the Forest Service consider converting some existing dispersed campsites as walk-in sites. In these situations, campers park their vehicles at a pullout, walk past a rock barrier for vehicles, then hike along a previous two-track that has been converted into a single-track trail for several minutes to a hardened campsite away from the road.

To continue allowing dispersed camping along the upper Boulder Creek road (FS Road 158), the Forest Service needs to improve road conditions to reduce sedimentation. The Forest Service should monitor these sites and be prepared to designate campsites here if the meadows continue to deteriorate.

Time for Your Take

[Deadline is past.] The SNRA is seeking public comments on the proposal to revise and update the motorized travel system in the Big Wood River watershed. So this is your chance to speak up about the travel plan. If this area is special to you, read over the proposal and then share what you think.