A drafted plan for the Pilot Hill project released this week envisions constructing 39.7 miles of new trails east of Laramie once the 5,500-acre section of property becomes public land — a process likely to be completed this year.
Under the plan presented by consulting firm SE Group, the vast majority of those trails would be placed in the northern section of the Pilot Hill property, with the southern section of property managed by the state as a Wildlife Habitat Management Area.
SE Group and community leaders of the Pilot Hill project presented the plan this week at two public meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
At those meetings, which drew more than 200 attendees, local residents sat around tables and offered feedback on the map that outlines the vision for the property’s land-use.
In the drafted plan, 34.3 miles of the new trail system would be placed in the Pilot Hill land’s northern section, dubbed the “Recreation Zone,” which consists of 3,450 acres.
Only one trail, running for 2.8 miles, would be placed on the property’s southern section, which consists of 3,000 acres.
To help connect the Pilot Hill property with the National Forest Service land that lies to the east, another 2.6 miles of trails are envisioned to be constructed on the NFS land.
Of the total 39.7 miles proposed under the draft plan, 25.4 miles would be for multi-use, open to hikers, cyclists and horseback riding; 9.3 miles would be only for mountain biking; 5 miles would be only for hiking.
Even if 34.3 miles of new trails were to be placed in the Recreation Zone, that area would still be less dense than other popular recreation spots near Laramie.
If the draft plan isn’t significantly changed before being finalized, Pilot Hill’s Recreation Zone would have 104 acres of land per trail mile. Meanwhile, Curt Gowdy State Park has 72 acres per trail mile and the Schoolyard Trails, a popular mountain biking spot west of the Pilot Hill land, has 55 acres per trail mile.
Tony Hoch, director of the Laramie Rivers Conservation District, sits on Pilot Hill’s oversight committee and said the drafted plan is intended to strike a balance between offering recreation opportunities, protecting wildlife, and protecting the Casper Aquifer.
“We also think this will be good for economic development in our community if we have this world-class natural amenity that people can come use and then visit our businesses,” Hoch said.
Hoch said it’s important to get as much feedback from the community to ensure that the drafted plan “matches the community’s vision and desired experience.”
Ellie Wachtel, a consultant for SE Group, said it’s important to limit trails in the Pilot Hill property’s southern section because of that area’s importance for elk, moose and mule deer.
Under the drafted plan, the southern section would be closed to human presence from Feb. 1 to May. 1. While hunting would be allowed in the southern section, camping and recreational shooting wouldn’t be.
The 39.7 miles of new trails are largely envisioned as fairly rugged, though Wachtel said there could be a small stretch of hiking trails that would have interpretive signage and be ADA-accessible.
The new trails, as well as the switchbacks within a single trail, would ideally be placed far enough apart to deter users from cutting between them, Wachtel said.
Gabby Voeller, who also works for SE Group, said the feedback that the Pilot Hill group receives on the drafted plan will be incorporated into the final version of the plan, which should be completed in May.
A few years ago, Albany County began trying to raise $10.5 million to buy the Pilot Hill land from Warren Livestock Co. However, that plan changed in 2018, when the Office of State Lands and Investments agreed to acquire the land by exchanging pieces of inaccessible public land in exchange for the Pilot Hill property.
OSLI is still expected to acquire most of the property through a land-swap, though the University of Wyoming agreed in November to pay $2.4 million to acquire 1,233 acres of the property.
“That really is big. They are being entirely cooperative in the planning process,” Hoch said of UW’s participation.
Bill Mai, UW’s interim vice president for administration and finance, said Wednesday that the UW section is not planned to be opened to the public until the land-swap is finalized.
Hoch said the current expectation is that OSLI will present the proposed land-swap to Wyoming’s five statewide elected officials for a vote in April or June.
More information about the drafted plans, including maps and other materials from this week’s meetings, are available at pilothill.org