We thank the Idaho Statesman’s Scott McIntosh for his June 14 opinion regarding the proposed Stanley to Redfish Lake trail, which highlighted the importance of this project for the public and local efforts to bring to fruition a plan that’s been in the making for nearly 30 years now. 

The Borens bought the property knowing there was an existing easement for the trail, and that the trail location and design had been through the public comment process and approved by the U.S. Forest Service. Just a year ago, the Borens sued the Forest Service about this project and the U.S. District Court determined that the agency completed its due diligence and allowed trail construction to proceed. Now, the Borens have added new legal claims for the courts to decide.

ICL firmly believes the Forest Service struck the right balance between improving recreation opportunities and protecting public lands and wildlife habitat. After ICL reviewed the Forest Service’s initial plan, we made public comments and then worked together with the agency to address concerns, including potential impacts of the project to wetlands, wildlife and scenery. 

Idaho’s Congressman Mike Simpson, Stanley’s mayor and other local community members helped envision the trail and also strongly support the Forest Service’s current plan, which takes into account the inherent values associated with the iconic Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA), including scenic, natural, historic and pastoral views, thoughtful observation of wildlife, and wheelchair-accessible trails. 

The approved trail would be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, strollers, cyclists and hikers, and made of a material to ensure all have access, providing opportunities for locals and visitors of all ages and abilities to take in the spectacular sights, sounds and smells of the SNRA. That means grandparents can share their love of the area with their grandchildren and point out to them their favorite Sawtooth peaks and the elk, Sandhill cranes, and other wildlife that call the area home. It’s notable that the Boren’s large home impacts the view of the Sawtooths from the highway more than the trail would along the approved route.

The alternative route mapped by Boren, which we first saw mapped in the opinion, would impact more wetlands and places the trail right next to Highway 75. Boren’s northernmost proposed parking lot would be in the middle of a wetlands area. Wetlands are extremely important for maintaining water quality and providing habitat for wildlife. 

The approved plan locates the trail far away from the noise and exhaust of highway traffic and greatly enhances public safety. Boren’s alternate route would require installing concrete barriers to separate the trail from the highway, or cutting into the hillside and building a retaining wall to create enough space.  

The approved plan provides a much better sense of appreciation for the natural sights, sounds, and smells of our National Forests and National Recreation Areas. Consider also that the current trail is in the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, the first in the United States, and is located in a prime viewing area for the night sky where people could safely walk at night away from light pollution from buildings and vehicles along Highway 75. A part of the approved plan offers a full 360-degree panorama of the night sky. Aligning the trail along Highway 75 as Boren suggests would eliminate this unique opportunity.

We hope the Borens recognize the important advantages of building the trail as approved. Frankly, in our view, his alternate route falls far short in so many areas when compared with the approved trail. That’s why ICL has joined with many others in the local community who strongly support the approved trail for many of these positive reasons, including safety, shared enjoyment of the natural beauty and wildlife of the SNRA, enhanced hiking and biking opportunities, and a location away from noisy motor vehicles and smelly and unhealthy exhaust. 

ICL fully supports the right of any person to seek administrative and legal remedies if there are significant concerns that an agency is not acting in accordance with the law. We carefully reviewed the proposed trail from conservation, recreation, and community perspectives and fully support the Forest Service’s decision in this case. 

Many Idahoans have been waiting for many years for the completion of the trail as currently approved. Further delay would be a major disappointment. 

John Robison is the Idaho Conservation League’s Public Lands Director