Two existing but unauthorized recreational trails will be considered for inclusion in the Black Hills National Forest’s official non-motorized trail system.
Meanwhile, four other proposed trails were set aside for now by Forest Service officials, who considered a total of six proposed trails as part of a new trail-proposal process that was created in August.
The trails advanced for further consideration are the Tinton Trail, which is a 26-mile loop trail in the northern Black Hills that is used for the Dakota Five-0 mountain bike race, and Shanks Quarry, a 22-mile network of trails west of Rapid City.
Both trails are already popular, especially among mountain-bikers, and are easily found with the help of activity-tracking smartphone apps. But the trails were apparently blazed by passionate users rather than Forest Service officials, and neither trail is considered part of the forest’s official trail system.
The Tinton Trail was proposed by two user groups, Black Hills Trails and the Ridge Riders of the Black Hills. Shanks Quarry was proposed by Black Hills Trails.
Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Mark Van Every sent letters to the groups this week to notify them of the two trail proposals that were selected for advancement. Van Every’s letter said some of the other proposals that were not selected could be modified and re-considered in the future.
Kevin Forrester, of Black Hills Trails, said the letter from Van Every arrived in the mail Friday.
“This is a step forward and a very positive thing,” Forrester said, “and I think it shows excellent leadership from Forest Supervisor Mark Van Every.”
Just two years ago, the then-ranger of the Forest’s Mystic District, Ruth Esperance, threatened to criminally prosecute builders of unauthorized trails. The threat provoked a backlash among trail users, especially in the mountain-biking community, who accused forest officials of longstanding inaction on proposals for new trails.
Out of the controversy, a dialogue grew. Discussions resulted in the creation of a five-step trail proposal process, complete with forms, timelines and procedures, all leading to an eventual final decision by the forest supervisor.
The Forest Service has now completed its initial, internal review of the first six trails to be proposed under the new process. Black Hills Trails and the Ridge Riders of the Black Hills each proposed the Tinton Trail, and Black Hills Trails proposed five additional trails.
All six of the proposed trails already exist as unauthorized trails. Some were apparently built by users, at least one is a formerly authorized trail that was de-listed from the official trail system, and another one was formerly a road.
Besides the Tinton and Shanks Quarry trails, the other proposed trails are known by the names Little Elk Creek, Storm Mountain, Victoria Lake and Paha Sapa.
The most popular of the trails is probably the Little Elk Creek Trail, which is accessible from a trailhead just north of Piedmont. The trail runs for 2.7 miles alongside Little Elk Creek through a canyon to Dalton Lake.
Van Every wrote in his letter that the Little Elk Creek proposal needs more work, including potential re-routes. He advised Black Hills Trails to work with Northern Hills District Ranger Steve Kozel to modify the proposal.
Storm Mountain and Victoria Lake are densely looping trail networks of nearly 30 miles apiece. Both are especially popular among mountain-bikers and are within a short driving distance west of Rapid City.
Van Every identified numerous problems with the Storm Mountain and Victoria Lake trails.
“Issues include routes through documented cultural sites, crossing private property, permitting bicycles on the historic Flume Trail where they are currently not authorized, crossing a major highway, fence crossings in the Foster Gulch area, lack of parking, and potential conflict with big game winter range,” Van Every wrote.
Van Every advised Black Hills Trails to work with the forest’s Mystic District officials on the problems with the Storm Mountain and Victoria Lake proposals.
The Paha Sapa trail is a formerly authorized trail that runs roughly between Sylvan Lake and Stockade Lake.
Van Every wrote in his letter, “I do not support reconstructing the Paha Sapa Trail in large part because we are providing similar opportunities with the Mickelson and Centennial trails.” He added that the Forest Service is already considering a connector trail between the Mickelson Trail and Mount Rushmore, which has the support of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.
Furthermore, Van Every wrote, the Paha Sapa trail goes through the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, where trail miles are limited by the Black Hills National Forest’s management plan.
For the two trails that were advanced for further review, several more steps in the process remain, including environmental reviews in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.