Lincoln County developed recreation area ramps up | Environmental

Residents in a quiet nook of northern Star Valley are raising a ruckus about draft Lincoln County plans to add an RV Park, commercial grill and other infrastructure to a wooded and largely unimproved 160-acre tract of federal land in the neighborhood.

At issue is a parcel of Bureau of Land Management property that runs along a Salt River Range ridgeline hugged between the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the privately owned valley floor.

Lincoln County holds a recreation lease on the BLM land located near Stewart Creek, but the inherited 24-year-old master plan for the property is outdated and no longer meets BLM regulations. Now, an update is underway that is essentially at the “brainstorming” phase, Lincoln County engineer Amy Butler told the News&Guide.

“This is in the very preliminary stages of the project,” Butler said.

Some residents of the Stewart Creek area, she said, have the false impression that the revamped Stewart Trail Recreation Area is a done deal.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding of the purpose of the plan,” Butler said. “They feel like it’s going to a private entity. They feel like it’s going to be developed right away. That’s not true.”

Some grievances about Lincoln County’s plan, which is now open to public comment, have been aired over a newly formed Facebook group, “Stewart Trail Community.” Neighbors created the group last month in response to the proposal. Those neighbors all see the plans similarly — they don’t like them.

“Everybody is monolithically on the same page on this,” said Dave Schultz, whose 10-acre lot abuts the BLM property. “And here’s what everybody really wants: Don’t do anything.”

A quarter of a square mile in size, the Stewart Creek parcel currently features a crude road, powerline corridor and a boarded-up cabin that dates to when the recreation lease was held by the Buford Foundation, which once ran a “wilderness experience camp.” The hilly terrain is vegetated with conifer forest and the occasional aspen stand, and the national forest abutting the property to the north is considered critical wildlife winter range that’s off-limits to humans during the winter due to its proximity to the Alpine elk feedground.

The current uses, according to Schultz, are mostly snowmobiling in the winter and ATVing, biking, hiking and hunting the rest of the year. The additions in Lincoln County’s proposal, if they were built out, he said, would change the nature of the property and, thus, neighborhood.

“In what universe is dropping 18 units of itinerant RV camping in the middle of a residential neighborhood congruent land use?” he said.

Besides adding the RV spaces and shoring up the old cabin, Lincoln County’s plans call for an archery range, sledding hill, camp sites, and infrastructure like bathrooms, electricity, plumbing and an improved road so the area can be rented for private events like weddings, reunions and graduation parties. In addition, the proposal also suggests adding hiking and biking trails and a cross-country skiing track.

That list of features was generated by a “steering committee” that consisted of a Lincoln county commissioner, its sheriff, a town of Alpine employee and a representative of the motor sports industry, Butler said. The Jackson-based engineering firm Y2 Consultants pulled together a more detailed proposal using the steering committee’s ideas. (A PowerPoint of the project’s highlights is attached to the online version of this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.)

In their totality the plans constitute a “hell of a lot of infrastructure,” in Schultz’s view. But he’s also hopeful that the plans aren’t going anywhere, partly because he perceives no major project proponent and the expense of it all.

“The cost of the improvements would be more than what the land would sell for,” he said. “Many millions of dollars to build what they’re talking about building.”

Butler, at the county, said she was unsure about the cost estimates and added that some estimates would be presented at a public meeting next week. Lincoln County is holding an open house-style meeting about the plans from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Alpine Civic Center. Comments about the draft master plan are also being accepted through Feb. 25 and can be emailed to STRA@y2consultants.com.

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners also must still sign off on the Stewart Trail Recreation Area master plan, Butler said.

After that, a federal planning process also potentially lies ahead, though BLM Kemmerer Field Office assistant resource manager Blaine Potts said his office “probably wouldn’t” have to do a National Environmental Policy Act review, like an environmental assessment. That will depend on how well the final project’s elements fit within the Recreation and Public Purposes Act, he said.