Recreationists say new plan a good start toward protecting Gallatin Crest and most popular bike trails but more work needed

Apr 7, 2010

BOZEMAN — Bozeman-based recreationists said a new plan for a Wilderness Study Area along the Gallatin Crest is off to a good start but there is still more work to do to safeguard Bozeman’s backyard wilderness and create new mountain bike opportunities.

“Today’s decision is the first step in an effort to protect the wild land bridge connecting our homes and community to the world’s first national park and preserving our most popular biking destinations,” said Ben Donatelle, a long-time mountain biker who has engaged on Gallatin National Forest issues for years. “We aren’t happy with every detail of the new plan but we are glad things are now moving in the right direction.”

Specifically, the recreationists praised the Forest Service for safeguarding access to the most popular mountain bike trails including Hyalite, Emerald Lake, and History Rock, while preserving the rest of the Gallatin Range/Crest for traditional recreation consisting of horse use, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

They were more critical of the decision to allow motorized use on Porcupine Creek, Buffalo Horn and Ramshorn Lake in the southern portion of the Crest, which bisects important wildlife habitat.

The Gallatin Crest — more formally known as the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area — is an important land bridge that extends north from Yellowstone National Park into the Gallatin National Forest to Bozeman’s backyard. The Crest is home to world-class big game populations and is one of the last best places to enjoy traditional recreation including the solitude and tranquility that a wilderness experience offers.

During the last few decades, motorized and mechanized use on the Gallatin Crest has increased and expanded into areas never allowed under the 1977 Montana Wilderness Study Act, which was vetted by the public and championed by the late Senator Lee Metcalf over 30 years ago. For the past 30 years the Forest Service was tasked with managing the Gallatin Crest under the direction of this law.

“We all need to be responsible about where we take our mountain bikes and motorcycles,” said Donatelle. “Mountain bikes may not belong in the middle of the Gallatin Crest but there are over a thousand miles of single-track elsewhere in the Gallatin National Forest and huge opportunities to expand that trail system.”

Recently a U.S. district judge ruled the Forest Service had violated the 1977 Act’s intention to maintain the ‘wilderness character’ of the Gallatin Crest by allowing motorized and mechanized use to increase above and beyond historic levels and locations, resulting in today’s announcement. The case was brought by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wilderness Association, and The Wilderness Society.

Scott Brennan, an avid mountain biker and The Wilderness Society’s Bozeman-based Forest Program Director said after many years of wrangling things are slowly starting to move in the right direction.

“Thirty years ago the late Senator Metcalf gave us the vision and the clout to ensure the Gallatin Crest gets a gold standard of protection, said Brennan. “Now, the Forest Service is starting to uphold that law while also preserving some of the most exceptional mountain bike opportunities that are closer to town.”

He cautioned however that the Forest Service may need to sit down and review a few of their maps again. “We won’t come close to realizing the intentions of Lee Metcalf’s Act or the court case until motorized routes no longer cut through the heart of the Gallatin Crest,” said Brennan.