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  1. #1
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    Scratchgravel Hills recreation management plan

    BLM just released their recreation management plan (RAMP) for the Scratchies. This is important. BLM designated the Scratchgravels as a special recreation area in 2009 when they revised the travel plan and made it nonmotorized. They're proposing a project to replace the existing road/trail footprint with a coherent trail network designed for recreation. Itís not intended to be a Copper City -style MTB trail network, but more like how youíd plan the South Hills to look if you could start over from scratch. Multi-use trails with better grades, and some DH trails on the south face of the higher peak. The proposal includes some options for long intermediate trails that roll along the landscape- great for XC or fitness miles. Thatíll also be good for NICA- thereís not much local trail that meets their criteria for grade.

    The project page is here: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-...ect/102446/510

    The RAMP and EA documents are here: https://eplanning.blm.gov/public_pro...0(6-24-20).pdf

    Helena IR article announcing the project: https://helenair.com/outdoors/blm-pr...me-top-story-1

    Helena's main trail network - the South Hills, is largely made up of legacy trail alignments that don't make a lot of sense. It's a great backyard trail network, but that's really all it is. A well-designed network in the Scratchgravels could safely accommodate many users of various types, and also disperse use across the greater Helena area by reducing some traffic in the South Hills. Sadly weíve seen a local rise in anti-MTB sentiment sparked by the Mt Ascension trails and then the new parking lot. They see this as a MTB project, despite the multi-use nature. Theyíre not savvy enough to understand that dispersing the use across multiple trail systems will be a good thing for everyone. Comments supporting of this project will be very helpful. Contact info for commenting is on the BLM project page linked above.

    If youíre local, the BLM will be onsite at the Norris Road trailhead on July 16 and 22 from 6:00-8:00 PM.

  2. #2
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    ^^Word. Good info. We border the Scratchgravel Hills. I ride there a lot and my wife runs there several days a week. Partly we are inclined to see it remain as it is, kinda rough around the edges and uncrowded, but we see the writing on the wall. This spring saw 5X more trail users than we have had before, it seemed. Covid of course. And the trails were dry by March 7, according to my pics, so it is a good early season recreating area that, like you say, diverts traffic from the south hills, especially when those trails are still muddy. A better trail system is needed in the Scratchgravels.

    I noticed the proposal allows for e-bikes up to 1 horsepower. I think that is appropriate for this BLM area, whereas I would oppose it in the south hills. Interestingly it was motorized until 10-12 years ago. Became nonmotorized about a year before we bought our house. So a good example of a BLM area that can logically support ebikes but doesn't work with the whole atv/dirt bike thing. Just my opinion.

    The guy who put this together initially actually emailed all us adjacent landowners a couple years ago, explaining his goals and asking for opinions. My wife had coffee with him and shared her thoughts about her favorite running trails being altered. A good example of how to build consensus among stakeholders who can choose to make a stink or not. Obviously it has been a slow process. Anyway, cheers to the Scratchies! Here's a few pics from this spring.

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  3. #3
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    Thanks for posting this evasive. I typically ride the scratchgravels a few times every year, some of the trails are great on my single speed. I mostly ride the western half, but also have enjoyed many spring hikes with my dog checking out wildflowers, and recently hitting some of the steeper sections on my FS bike. This area really could be a jewel in the making and I definitely will submit comments.

    Although I have to admit that I like the rougher nature of it like yeahman said, but also understand the value in a defined plan and expansion opportunities for a multitude of user groups. I have a buddy that lives out there and rides a lot, he also mentioned the uptick in usage recently and that's only going to grow so glad to see this.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by yeahman View Post
    I noticed the proposal allows for e-bikes up to 1 horsepower. I think that is appropriate for this BLM area, whereas I would oppose it in the south hills.
    I was unaware that we were allowed to take reasonable positions about land and recreation management issues in Montana. Must be an east-of-the-divide thing.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for the heads up. Will comment. More trails and more shoulder season trails is a good thing.

    RE: the E-bike thing, good they are getting out front of it.
    I have been in this State for 30 years and I am willing to admit that I am part of the problem.

  6. #6
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    Is the disc golf course still out there?

    We only road the scratchies until May due to the overwhelming heat....


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  7. #7
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    Yeah, there are at least a couple courses, in varying states. The disc golf guys were involved in the 2017 proposal to the BLM.

    I spent 12 years living against the South Hills with 2 trailheads within 200 yards of my door (now I live a mile from a trailhead- the shame). I usually only rode the Scratchies in winter, but the possibilities are awesome. If you look at the map, the proposed trails are mostly described in individual loops, but collectively they would let you circumnavigate the entire area at roughly the 4,500í contour, plus/minus about 100í. Thatís about 14 miles. We just donít have any kind of rolling XC options here, and that would be a huge addition for kids, beginners, or days when you just want some time in the saddle to zone out.

  8. #8
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    Sure would. However the punchy climbs of the south hills will make you hard as a rock. When you go ride other places youíre superhuman.

    Do people still overlook the Brooklyn bridge and those huge loops out by Nelson?


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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by evasive_MT View Post
    Yeah, there are at least a couple courses, in varying states. The disc golf guys were involved in the 2017 proposal to the BLM.

    I spent 12 years living against the South Hills with 2 trailheads within 200 yards of my door (now I live a mile from a trailhead- the shame). I usually only rode the Scratchies in winter, but the possibilities are awesome. If you look at the map, the proposed trails are mostly described in individual loops, but collectively they would let you circumnavigate the entire area at roughly the 4,500í contour, plus/minus about 100í. Thatís about 14 miles. We just donít have any kind of rolling XC options here, and that would be a huge addition for kids, beginners, or days when you just want some time in the saddle to zone out.
    We're in the same boat regarding trailhead proximity except that I now live 2.5 miles from the trailhead. I am only 3 blocks from my office now though, which is nice. I still do all my south hills riding from the house though, which speaks to the ease of access even from the center of town.

    I agree on the rolling terrain for beginners, etc. I remember seeing an article in the IR on the waterline extension to barking dog being a great option for beginners, families, and kids. NOT! The off-camber of portions of that trail combined with a few short steep shots and the occasional exposure makes that a very bad choice for novices IMO.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by detrusor View Post
    Sure would. However the punchy climbs of the south hills will make you hard as a rock. When you go ride other places youíre superhuman.

    Do people still overlook the Brooklyn bridge and those huge loops out by Nelson?


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    My social media makes it seems like people are riding Brooklyn Bridge as much as ever. I heard someone dragged 30+ logs across it a few weeks ago, though.

    The Forest closed that area for thinning a couple weeks ago, and I imagine some spots burned in the Lump Gulch fire.

  11. #11
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    When my wife ran the half marathon in the Governor's Cup last year, her first comment at the finish line was, "That was a lot easier than running in the Scratchgravels." lol. Point being there are some steep trails there, and they are rough.

    That old BLM map at the trailhead is ridiculously out of date. Anybody not using Trailforks is going to be pretty clueless as to where to find decent singletrack. One trail extension I would be particularly happy to see is the one I circled in black. I like that loop from the Head Lane trailhead up Horse Biscuits, around Scratchgravel Singletrack and Flume Trail--all it needs is to connect it back to the trailhead. I usually just ride back up Head Lane to my house, but it would be really nice to complete the loop on singletrack and end up at the trailhead.

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  12. #12
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    No doubt on the accuracy of the BLM map yeahman. And I agree on the steep trails comment, I haven't ridden much of the steeper trails on the eastern portion though. There is a lot more variety to ride out there than many people realize I think.
    Last edited by 3PinGrin; 06-26-2020 at 01:02 PM.

  13. #13
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    Totally support formalizing the existing trail system and adding some new, but can't we keep the Scratchgravels a little, scratchy? The spider web of green on Map 2 and the proposal to double the size of every parking lot seems a little excessive ... What's going to happen to existing roads/trails - it's not like the existing routes are going to be reclaimed, not in that soil.
    And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by CountryFunk View Post
    Totally support formalizing the existing trail system and adding some new, but can't we keep the Scratchgravels a little, scratchy? The spider web of green on Map 2 and the proposal to double the size of every parking lot seems a little excessive ... What's going to happen to existing roads/trails - it's not like the existing routes are going to be reclaimed, not in that soil.
    From what I read, the existing trails will stay as they are, with 40 miles of trails being added. I agree you'd never be able to reclaim trails in that soil, and there's no real reason to even incur that expense. Speaking of expense, who's going to pay for this? BLM seems pretty strapped. Prickly Pear Land Trust is great but they already have irons in too many fires to deal with something like the Scratchgravels. I don't think this is all a pipe dream, but I do think it will take many years before it's a reality. Probably going to take an army of volunteers to actually build the trails.

    As for the parking lots, that's interesting, IMO they're already pretty large. They recently re-did the Head Lane lot and it's pretty good size (although it was overflowing this spring). The Norris Road parking lot is huge and I talked to a lot of people accessing the peak from that side this spring up the Norris Singletrack. I think it's overkill to worry about doubling the size of parking lots before building the trails. Now that the spring activity has subsided and the south hills trails are dry, we're largely back to having the place to ourselves, and I think that will always be the case during summer--it is hotter and the dirt just isn't as good. Could be wrong though. With a better trail system maybe more people would use it in the summer.

  15. #15
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    RE: Funding. Follow the model for CC. Seems to have been successful.

    RE: Demand/parking. Learn from the CC experience. Parking lot is already too small.

    I fully admit I said no one would ride at CC mid-summer for all the reasons you used. Still pretty damn busy mid-summer.

    Aim high.
    I have been in this State for 30 years and I am willing to admit that I am part of the problem.

  16. #16
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    What was the CC model of funding?

  17. #17
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    https://www.southwestmontanamba.org/copper-city

    Lots of social media exposure and a ton of fundraisers and partnerships.

    Takes a couple of really motivated folks and a pool of volunteers. Helena probably has those sorts of folks.
    I have been in this State for 30 years and I am willing to admit that I am part of the problem.

  18. #18
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    My expectation is that this would work like other BLM trail projects. The RAMP is the planning document that provides approval for the design consistent with NEPA and agency planning rules. Then once the plan is final, a local partner group builds it accordingly, in phases as resources allow. It could take a while to go from approval to full implementation.

  19. #19
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    Scratchgravel Hills recreation management plan

    It sounds like the initial comments are from the local anti-bike crowd who are trying to scare the equestrian community. If you havenít commented yet, please do.

    The BLM has changed their onsite meeting procedure. Theyíre now asking people to schedule blocks of time, preferably by user group representatives.


    https://www.blm.gov/press-release/bl...ecreation-plan

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by evasive_MT View Post
    It sounds like the initial comments are from the local anti-bike crowd who are trying to scare the equestrian community. If you haven’t commented yet, please do.

    The BLM has changed their onsite meeting procedure. They’re now asking people to schedule blocks of time, preferably by user group representatives.


    https://www.blm.gov/press-release/bl...ecreation-plan
    My wife and I made an appointment.

    Here's the part of the plan I don't like. Am I missing something here? No more biking on the existing trails? This is from page 20 of the initial environmental assessment PDF.

    Mechanized use, including both traditional bicycles and E-bikes, would not be allowed
    on the existing road and trail network.

  21. #21
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    Yeah, that seems to be the plan- bikes only on the new trails. Definitely raise that. I donít ride there enough to have a favorite route I want to maintain, but Iím sure many do.

  22. #22
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    I guess I probably don't care much about the old fire roads, as long as they are replaced by a multi use singletrack trail. But I'd hate to lose access to all the singletrack that currently exists. Of course, since the outdated BLM map doesn't really show most of those singletrack trails, "existing routes" probably doesn't include those trails as far as the BLM is concerned. But yeah, I will definitely ask about that.

  23. #23
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    I reached out to a bike shop owner I used to ride with and worked for, he hadnít heard that. Was going to definitely comment


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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by detrusor View Post
    I reached out to a bike shop owner I used to ride with and worked for, he hadn’t heard that. Was going to definitely comment


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    Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but to me it seemed like it was kind of buried in there on purpose. It's just one sentence tacked on to a paragraph about e-bikes--huh? But in any case I'm bringing a Trailforks printout of the Scratchgravels with me to the meeting in an attempt to determine how much the BLM actually knows about the "existing" trails in there. My hunch is not much, other than the roads shown on their old map. If that's the case, I'd like to see them add some language that accounts for existing singletrack and makes it exempt from that exclusion, or at the very least see language added that clearly defines what the "existing road and trail network" actually means.

    Edit: Okay, I actually do see it mentioned in another place too. So obviously it's part of the plan. Maybe something they did to appease the hikers and/or equestrians? Seems kind of drastic to ban "traditional" bikes from all those old roads. Especially since most of the time nobody is even up there anyway, other than for a few weeks in the spring. I went for a ride at 4 pm yesterday and there was one car in the Head Lane parking lot. I dunno, seems weird to me.
    Last edited by yeahman; 07-15-2020 at 10:29 AM.

  25. #25
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    I think the point is to make the new trail quality good enough that bikers don't want to use the other routes and the overall mileage of trail stays the same. This is a model we are going to see more of so that land managers have more control, better quality trails that are emphasized for bikes, as well as avoiding haphazard or proliferating trails.

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