The U.S. Forest Service is planning a large-scale overhaul of the non-motorized recreation system on the Pole Mountain unit east of Laramie, with the first steps of the project set to begin this summer and fall.
The Laramie Ranger District had planned to kick off the Pole Mountain Gateways project with a series of three public meetings in both Laramie and Cheyenne starting in late March. The purpose was to gather information from the public in advance of starting the official planning process and environmental analysis.
Those meetings, of course, were postponed and then cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the rest of the project on hold as well.
“The district really feels like it’s important — because of the scope and scale of the project — to make sure we engage with the community first before we start the (National Environmental Policy Act) process,” said spokesman Aaron Voos.
Now the public meetings are tentatively scheduled for the fall. The University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute is still set to facilitate the meetings, coordinate social media and develop a project website.
Meetings are designed to gather information from visitors about where they like to go, what they like to do, trails they use, preferred access points and other priorities. The environmental analysis will include a look at trails, facilities, parking, signage and more. The official planning process will offer additional opportunities for public comment.
Meanwhile, the Laramie Ranger District is planning to collaborate with the volunteer group Common Outdoor Ground to spend two days assessing non-system trails on Pole Mountain in July. Such trails will be considered for including in the official trail system, depending on their condition and location, in addition to public input.
“We’re aware of a lot of those already, but what we’re not fully aware of is what the actual status of those trails is, what kind of shape they’re in,” Voos 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.
“We’re looking well into the future with the Gateways project, and we want the community to help us with that planning,” said Laramie District Ranger Frank Romero.
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 is 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.