Our Scratchgravel Stance—PPLT Submits Balanced-Use Suggestion in BLM Recreation Area

Where there’s recreation and conservation, PPLT makes your voice heard. As the BLM looks to streamline management in the Scratchgravel Hills, PPLT outlines our goal - excerpt from fall 2020 newsletter.

The Scratchgravel Hills, 5,500 acres of non-motorized Bureau of Land Management land just a few miles northwest of town, hold tremendous potential for outdoor recreation. Just how that potential should be realized depends on who you ask. There are hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers and naturalists among the stakeholders. There are the considerations of adjacent landowners as well.

Recognizing the diversity of stakeholders, the BLM’s Butte Field Office, which oversees the area, embarked on a Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP) this summer to gather and assess those interests. The Prickly Pear Land Trust has dutifully weighed in on the recreation plan. “The Scratchgravels are a well-loved and well-used landscape,” said John Beaver, board president. “Prickly Pear has had a longstanding interest … to accommodate as many interests as possible.”

Beaver and Nate Kopp, PPLT Program and Trails Director, were among the dozen members of a diverse community ad hoc committee of user-groups. Representatives from bikers, hikers, equestrians, and neighboring landowners met seven times and invested more than 250 hours studying the plan and suggesting an alternative satisfactory alternative for all parties. In a nutshell, they favored a sustainable management solution with equity among user groups, reduced environmental impacts, and respect for adjacent property owner rights and concerns.

The Land Trust’s Conservation and Recreation Committee similarly reviewed and discussed the recreation plan in depth. “The ad hoc committee came to some of the same conclusions as our internal committee,” said Beaver.

PPLT’s board, in turn, outlined in a 4½ -page letter to the BLM the land trust’s view that a new, alternative plan, Alternative C, could split the difference between the two alternatives proposed in the BLM’s original plan. In the letter, PPLT suggests that the Scratchgravel Hills project “represents a real opportunity for a community win for non-motorized recreations of all kinds, while also reducing impacts to homeowners and addressing environmental issues such as noxious weeds.” More specifically, the letter reads, “PPLT supports a multi-use trail design standard that can accommodate the three predominant user groups on the trail system: hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.” In its recommendations, PPLT’s alternative provides for approximately 50 miles of trails, not the proposed 80, and utilizing the existing footprint when feasible. While e-bikes of certain lower-impact classes are permitted in places like Tenmile Creek Park, PPLT’s alternative recommends a no e-bike policy in keeping with the 2009 decision designating the Scratchgravels as a non-motorized recreation area.

The land trust supports a meaningful annual maintenance funding that could include a seasonal trail steward position. BLM funding and “agency engagement” are essential to making the management plan sustainable, said Beaver.

Further, PPLT advocates for greater management of invasive weeds and addressing issues of maintaining roads leading to the trailhead, and maintaining good relationships with Scratchgravel neighbors.

Beaver praised the “honest, frank and polite conversations,” of the process and acknowledged that we all stand to benefit. “I feel good about the collaborative effort and hope we can continue in that spirit.”