The U.S. Forest Service’s Pole Mountain Gateways project is set to officially get underway this weekend with the first of two volunteer trail-assessment days.

Volunteers are invited to travel non-system trails on the Pole Mountain Unit on Saturday and July 19, using a GPS unit to gather information about the location and condition of trails. Each date is limited to 20 volunteers, who must attend an orientation session at either 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. each morning.

On Saturday, volunteers will meet at the Tie City Trailhead and cover areas north of Wyoming Highway 210. On July 19, they’ll meet at the Vedauwoo fee booth and cover areas south of Happy Jack Road. Volunteers should wear a mask when they check in and plan to return no later than 4 p.m. Register at commonoutdoorground.org.

Abby Sisneros-Kidd, a member of the volunteer group Common Outdoor Ground, said volunteers should have some knowledge of non-system trails in the area. Common Outdoor Ground, or COG, is coordinating the assessment sessions.

Non-system trails aren’t maintained or mapped by the U.S. Forest Service, but were created by some other means. They could be user-created trails, old roadbeds or even pathways used by livestock and wild game.

One component of the Gateways project is to analyze these routes for possible incorporation in the official Forest Service system.

“We’re especially interested in ones we don’t have on a map somewhere,” Sisneros-Kidd said. “We’ve been trying to gather existing data sources, and a couple folks have compiled some of these before, but we’re looking for ones we don’t know about.”

In addition to simply mapping routes, volunteers will be asked to drop waypoints marking trail problems, such as wide spots or muddy areas.

The Laramie Ranger District is also collaborating with the University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute on the information-gathering phase of the project, another component of which is an online mapping tool available at pole-mountain-gateways.wygisc.org.

At that site, trail users can input preferred access points, photos, suggestions for signage and infrastructure, maintenance needs, trail conditions and more.

Sisneros-Kidd said anyone who can’t make the volunteer days can still upload their own GPS information to the site using its mapping tool. The site will be open for input all summer.

“We understand that the volunteer events are pretty narrow in scope, but we have this other tool to hopefully gather information that people have,” she said.

The site will also serve as an information hub for disseminating project updates.

The Laramie Ranger District had planned to kick off the Pole Mountain Gateways project last spring with a series of three public meetings in Laramie and Cheyenne to solicit input prior to the start of the official planning process and environmental analysis.

The Forest Service and Ruckelshaus Institute are now considering how to host some type of public meeting in the fall, according to a news release.

Spokesperson Aaron Voos said in an earlier interview that engaging with community prior to starting the planning process was a priority for the Laramie Ranger District.

“The district really feels like it’s important,” he said.

The Pole Mountain Gateways project is intended to shape management of non-motorized recreation on the unit for the next few decades. It follows a similar big-picture look at motorized recreation on the unit that was completed several years ago.

The Gateways project coincides with the imminent completion of the Pilot Hill Project, offering the opportunity to plan access and collaboration between the two public lands. In the short-term, the Laramie Ranger District is planning to build a connector trail from the Pilot Hill parcel to the national forest, which will be analyzed separately from the Gateways project.

The Pole Mountain unit consists of about 55,000 acres of national forest a few miles east of Laramie and mostly north of Interstate 80. It’s a heavily visited area that’s only growing in popularity with recreationists from southeast Wyoming and the Colorado Front Range. It sees heavy use year-round for hiking, climbing, camping, fishing, hunting, Nordic skiing, mountain biking, off-highway travel, livestock grazing, military training and communications.

Sisneros-Kidd said people are ready to get the process underway.

“I’m sure the volunteers are pretty excited,” she said. “I think people are chomping at the bit.”

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