Horseback trail plans on hold

Farm Forum

PIERRE – The state Game, Fish and Parks Department doesn’t know when, if ever, work can proceed on new trails for horseback riding that GFP wants to build through U.S. Forest Service land in southwestern South Dakota.

The two sets of trails would total about 14 miles. They would start and finish at the Sheps Canyon state camping and recreation area at Angostura Reservoir near Hot Springs.

Much of the trail system would be on national forest land, so GFP needs a special-use permit.

That’s where the uncertainty is.

A March 13 letter from Dennis Jaeger, the acting supervisor for the Black Hills National Forest, advised GFP to expect a timeline of eight to 12 months or longer for any final decision.

Jaeger’s letter cited the priority of another application pending for the Mickelson Trail connector project, staffing shortages and “possible budgetary concerns.”

The letter also advises that if trails are allowed, the design and management standards usually would call for more than one type of nonmotorized user.

That probably means mountain bikes, and an environmental impact statement might be required for the project, too, said Doug Hofer, GFP’s director for parks and recreation.

Hofer briefed the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission on the project recently during the commission’s monthly meeting in Winner.

Commissioner Jim Spies of Watertown said developing and maintaining trails for bicyclists would be expensive.

“It would never end,” he said.

Hofer said it’s unknown how strict those biking standards would be.

He told the commission that, for now, he’s delaying the project. He said about 5 miles of trail could be built on land leased by GFP from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

That land is part of the state recreation area along part of the west shore of the reservoir and along the Cheyenne River bottom leading out of it.

“Five miles of horse trail is not a good reason to camp overnight,” Hofer said.

Instead, the trail system was envisioned to provide much longer rides that would take 10 hours or longer to complete.

There would be a 3.5-mile south loop extension, most of which would be on Forest Service land.

And there would be an 18-mile ride, round trip, including about 5 miles each way on Forest Service land to Flagpole Mountain and beyond, with a figure eight atop the Green Canyon ridge. The figure eight would feature overlooks to the north, west and east.

GFP has worked for several years to turn the former Hill Ranch in Fall River County into a major outdoors complex in the southern Black Hills. The Forest Service has been aware of GFP’s horse-trail plans since 2011.

Hofer said on April 8 that he’s waiting for more information from the Forest Service on what will be expected for the environmental analysis.

That will help form a decision on whether it would be prudent for GFP to proceed with the segment of trail on the land leased by GFP from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, he said.