The Pilot Hill Project would both bring outdoor recreation opportunities just steps from town and preserve the city’s pristine drinking water, but some Laramie City Council members are concerned the committee is overlooking what could be major issues if the land acquisition is approved later this spring.
The Council was presented with an update to the Pilot Hill Project during its regular work session Tuesday, and many of the members expressed their support.
Co-chair for the Pilot Hill Project’s Oversight Committee Tony Hoch said the project is aimed to protect the Casper Aquifer from potential development that could contaminate it, forcing the city to pay millions in water treatment costs in the future. Additionally, the parcel of land would connect the city to part of Medicine Bow National Forest, further increasing recreation, education and wildlife preservation opportunities.
Since the committee plans on building a network of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails throughout the parcel of land, Mayor Andi Summerville asked if the committee had considered potential areas for the public to use to access the trails. She said her “nightmare situation” would be if the traffic conditions — especially parking — put a strain on the residents of the neighborhoods near the current access points, including one on Crow Street.
“If this land becomes accessible early or late next spring, and we have a neighborhood that gets flooded with cars on a regular basis from people who want to access that land, we’ve all failed as elected officials and as policy makers,” Summerville said. “That infrastructure has to come first.”
Summerville added the cost of constructing roads and parking areas alone to different access points could be a multi-million-dollar project, something she said she wasn’t sure the committee was including in its plans.
Sarah Brown Matthews, with the project’s Finance Committee, said it has been difficult to make any real plans about access points since they do not own the land yet.
She added the committee has tried to give as much foresight as possible to the issue as it waits for the Land Commission meeting in March, when it will know more about the status of the land acquisition.
“It does have this opportunity come to fruition in a timeline that is not necessarily the most popular time in Wyoming to be out hiking,” Matthews said.
She added the committee estimates costs for constructing three access points and 50 miles of trail at about $1.5 million, and it is possible to include parking lots on the edges of the land instead of in neighborhoods.
The committee is in contact with designers and planners, Matthews added, as well as looking at potential funding options for the access points, including donations and grants.
Hoch said he thought the project was “generally supported really well” based on public comments he’s heard so far, but agreed the committee needed to start investigating potential access points for the land.
Councilman Joe Shumway said he was concerned about the potential cost to access the land once the acquisition is complete. He said he remembered when Vedauwoo was free and was concerned residents would have to pay a fee each time they want to visit the land, similar to visits to state parks and forests.
Hoch said he did not have an answer to that now, but the committee would like to avoid requiring a fee from residents.
“We want this to be a success,” Matthews said. “We want it to be a Laramie community-beneficial park space.”
Summerville said it is a “good project,” but added it’s important the city does not “lose sight of the details that are going to become very important very quickly.” She added she thinks the city should be included in the process to handle issues “ahead of time and in a transparent way.”