The Laramie Ranger District is continuing an information-gathering process in advance of initiating a large-scale overhaul of non-motorized recreation on the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest.
The University of Wyoming Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources is organizing the public-input phase on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service, which included a public meeting last week to talk about the project.
The next public meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. March 4 and will include opportunities for attendees to discuss their values and vision and generate non-motorized options and priorities. Meetings can be accessed at the Pole Mountain Gateways Project website, pole-mountain-gateways.wygisc.org, or on the project’s Facebook page.
Laramie District Ranger Frank Romero said during the Jan. 28 meeting that the upcoming project is a big-picture approach to managing non-motorized recreation on the unit. That approach includes a “shared stewardship” philosophy with neighboring public and private lands, including the Pilot Hill parcel and Curt Gowdy State Park.
“I’m not afraid of looking across the lines and talking with my other partners,” he said.
He’s also playing the long game. A successful project will result in a recreation system that can be maintained for decades, and Romero said he wants public input that is also thinking big and looking into the future.
“Let’s think about what this can look like 5, 10, 50 years from now,” he said.
The Pole Mountain unit covers about 55,000 acres and sits a few miles east of Laramie, mostly north of Interstate 80. Since the 1870s, it’s been managed for natural resources, initially in the name of military applications. It came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service in the 1960s.
Although the oldest official trail dates back to the 1970s, most roads and trails were developed by the military and not for recreational use.
“This will be the first time that we tackle that with non-motorized recreation planning,” said spokesman Aaron Voos.
Pole Mountain’s popularity is only growing, as it’s easy to get to and close to Laramie, Cheyenne and northern Colorado.
“It sees a lot of use, both local and out-of-state use,” Voos said. “There’s a lot of recreation up there.”
In addition to recreation, the unit is managed for multiple uses, including grazing, hunting and fishing, communications, military training and more.
Voos said the Forest Service is operating under the assumption that year-round visitation will continue to increase, making sustainability and connectivity even more important.
“We think that’s a given,” he said.
In the near future, the Laramie Ranger District is planning to construct a connector trail that will reach the western side of the Pole Mountain Unit and connect with trails planned for the Pilot Hill parcel.
A trail corridor has been designated, but the exact location of the trail is still in the works. That project is separate from the Pole Mountain Gateways Project, Voos said, but is linked to the project in the sense that it falls under the umbrella of non-motorized recreation and facilitates connectivity with a neighboring public land.
“It’s ongoing and separate from Gateways Project, but it is linked to the Gateways Project,” he said.
Katie Haynes, a botanist with the Forest Service who is leading the interdisciplinary team behind the project, said the Laramie Ranger District is focused on listening to the public right now before the official planning process begins.
“Our role is mostly to listen,” she said. “We know that the U.S. Forest Service does not know everything about the Pole Mountain Unit, but you do, at least collectively,” she said. “The larger community of recreationists has a lot to share, and I really encourage you to do that.”
Haynes said the project will include all aspects of non-motorized recreation, including parking lots, camping, signage, toilets and trails. Any trails that aren’t adopted into the official Forest Service system will be decommissioned, and “pioneering” new trails will be prohibited.
“If you have a trail that you like that you want to be considered for adopting into the final system, please share it with us,” Haynes said.
In addition to public meetings, the Haub School has developed a website to collect input. The site has a mapping application where people can submit reports and photographs from visitors. Haub School staff are also creating an archive of digital stories from forest visitors sharing first-person experiences with the area.