The Wyoming Planning Association has honored the Pilot Hill Project as its 2020 Planning Project of the Year, recognizing the important role it plays in protecting the Casper Aquifer and building a healthier, more resilient economy for communities in southeast Wyoming.
The Pilot Hill land-use plan got underway during the fall of 2019 while the land exchange facilitated by the Wyoming Office of State Lands entered its final stages. The 7,100-acre Pilot Hill parcel is now managed by the non-profit Pilot Hill Inc., with a board of directors that includes representation from Albany County, the city of Laramie, the University of Wyoming, Laramie Rivers Conservation District and partners representing wildlife, aquifer protection and recreation interests.
“The Pilot Hill plan was the result of hundreds of hours contributed by our partners from the U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming State Parks, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, city, county and so many others,” said Tony Hoch, chair of the Pilot Hill board of directors. “We are honored to receive this recognition for Pilot Hill and hope it can serve as a model for other Wyoming communities.”
On the northern portion of the unit, 4,024 acres will be managed with a focus on recreation through a three-phase effort to build more than 40 miles of new non-motorized, multi-use trails. The trails will connect the eastern edge of Laramie with the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest, creating a recreation corridor that accesses 55,000 acres of public lands.
A team from SE Group led the planning process by soliciting community input through virtual and in-person events, with more than 300 individuals and seven agency partners participating in a summit in June of 2020. In August, SE Group finalized route maps and GPS location points for construction requirements, way-finding signs, rest benches and other design features in the first phase of the plan. The parcel was opened to the public on a limited basis in September.
Meanwhile, Pilot Hill Inc. secured approval from the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission in September to designate 3,076 acres on the southern half of the property as a Wildlife Habitat Management Area. The area will protect critical winter habitat for both big game and non-game species while also protecting vulnerable areas in the Casper Aquifer recharge zone.
Since 2018, citizens, businesses and other organizations have donated more than $1 million for infrastructure and access development, with the first phase of trail construction expected to begin next year.
As part of the first phase, more than 21 miles of new trails have been planned that will take trail users through pine and aspen groves, past unique limestone formations and to stunning views of the Snowy Range, Never Summer Range and Laramie Valley. Some sections will accommodate trail users of all ages and abilities, while others will be optimized for thrilling downhill mountain bike travel. A community-wide celebration and formal grand opening for Pilot Hill is planned for next summer.
The Wyoming Planning Association advocates for planning programs that preserve the quality of life in Wyoming. Its annual awards honor urban and rural planning projects, planners and appointed commissions.
ABOUT THE PILOT HILL PROJECT
The Pilot Hill Project is a community collaboration to preserve undeveloped open space east of Laramie, which will protect wildlife habitat and the recharge zone for the Casper Aquifer, a drinking water resource for Albany County, enhance recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, and promote economic development by providing a world-class natural amenity to attract and retain businesses and their employees.