Trail system gains speed at council meeting

Wyoming Motorized Trails Program Manager Forrest Kamminga speaks to a well-attended Kemmerer City Council meeting on Monday, April 12. Kamminga and other local and state officials have shown support for a trail system by Southwest Wyoming Off-road Trails (SWOT). (GAZETTE PHOTO/Mark Tesoro)

KEMMERER — Mark Tesoro, president of SWOT (Southwest Wyoming Off-road Trails), and other supporters of a proposed trail project attended the Kemmerer City Council meeting on Monday, April 12, to provide an update on the progress of the off-road trail system and to encourage the support of residents and city officials. A large number of Kemmerer residents and supporters of SWOT were in attendance.

Tesoro started by thanking the council and announcing the names and organizations attending: Chris Floyd, Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation; Sens. Dan Dockstader and Fred Baldwin; Kevin Tillman and Arvid Asse, National Park Service; Blaine Potts and Kelly Lamborn, BLM; Elaina Zempel, Wyoming Business Council; Sarah Hale, Senator Lummis’office; Amy Butler, Lincoln County Engineer; Ron Wild, Rocky Mountain Power; Lincoln County Sheriff Shane Johnson; Robert King, Lincoln County Commission; Ken Roberts, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.

Providing a summary of the origin and growth of SWOT, which began approximately a year and a half ago at a Uinta County Economic Development Commission meeting, Tesoro told how he and several other people including Todd Jones and Rick Schuler with the Forest Service had the idea to work on something that hadn’t been done before to bring people to southwest Wyoming.  They knew that in other communities in the intermountain states there were many off-road trails that were bringing economic opportunities to those communities surrounded by ATV trails. SWOT’s organizers began to contact different agencies and individuals and two of the first to support the idea were Sen. Dockstader of Lincoln County and Floyd.

Tesoro explained that SWOT has now incorporated as a nonprofit with a formal board of directors.  This allows them to apply for grants through the state to help with signage and maps, etc.

“SWOT recently gained the approval of the Evanston City Council for ATVs on city streets as long as they purchase an OHV sticker for $15 from the state. That $15 gets doubled at the state [level] and can then be used for maintenance of trails and signage. We also met with the Uinta County Commission and after several landowner meetings, we signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the county to designate 13 county roads as part of the trail system,” Tesoro said.

Tesoro said Mountain View is currently approving an ordinance to allow ATVs and side-by-sides on their city streets and SWOT is hoping Kemmerer will do the same.  Even though county roads are accessible to the public, Tesoro said, the Uinta County Commission wanted SWOT inform landowners. Ranchers are already seeing lots of people on those county roads and by listing those used by SWOT with the state, Tesoro explained, it will be a way to manage them and maintain them. He said that early in the organizing stages, SWOT had worked with the State Attorney General in order to determine any liability. SWOT was assured that Wyoming is a “recreate at your own risk state.”  Liability lies with the person recreating and not with the land owner or the state.

“The first phase of connecting the trails is from Evanston to Bridger Valley, across the forest and across and back down to Evanston. The next phase we want to work on is connecting with Kemmerer,” Tesoro said. “Eventually, we would like to tie in with Afton, Star Valley, Pinedale, and Sweetwater county recreational areas.”

Tesoro then gave examples of other states’ trail systems and how they benefited their economies. At Bear Lake, he said, stats show 50% of visitors go to the area for the lake and 50% for the ATV trails.   He added that stats also show that one-third of the motorized recreation income in Idaho comes from ATVs.

Tesoro added, “There is no reason we can’t market southwest Wyoming as well as the state markets Jackson Hole and Devils Tower.  The State is in dire straits for revenue and tourism and recreation is the second biggest revenue driver.”

Floyd was next to speak, “I started to work with Mark on this last year and he has had the passion and drive to get this moving.  We in southwest Wyoming have a lot to offer in recreational opportunities.  State parks visitations were up 35% this last year and sales of ATVs were up 50%.  Southwest Wyoming is ripe for this trail system and our office would like to see trails connected all across the state and connecting with other state’s trails. We have the geography and we have the trails. We need to find a way to get in front of this opportunity and manage it.”

Dockstader added that he thought it was a natural step for SWOT to move into Kemmerer and added Utah and Idaho folks would take advantage of the trail system. He said he has initiated a discussion at the state level to focus attention on southwest Wyoming.

Tesoro opened the floor for questions from the audience and a lively discussion took place. A question was asked about how the $15 sticker is doubled at the state and was answered by Floyd, who said his office received a federal match of $18.40 from fuel tax receipts so it is actually a little more than double.

The discussion ranged from how the roads would be managed and patrolled to concerns about speeding and people going off the trails and damaging the environment and landowners’ property. Floyd responded with the fact that the sticker program with his office includes an opportunity to apply for grants for a trail ranger.  The county roads have to be enrolled in the state program by having a MOU with cities and counties, which can then apply for the grant. 

Tillman, who is with Fossil Butte National Monument, said the Forest Service usually has special patrols during high peak times and on weekends but it is not 100% coverage. Tesoro said there will be more eyes in the field so self-policing and watching and reporting others who break the rules will likely occur.

When someone asked if there was any data concerning the effect on wildlife from the noise and activity of ATVs, Tesoro said they didn’t have any data at this time but SWOT is creating partnerships with all agencies involved.

“SWOT is not in the business of creating campsites or eating establishments but we are encouraging other business people.  SWOT will provide an opportunity to create economic development in all of the cities and towns along the trails.  We are looking for expertise and knowledge from residents to get these trails open. If you have ideas, contact us.  Our desire is to respect landowners and our natural resources along 1,000 miles of connected roads,” Tesoro said.

Tesoro then thanked Mayor Bill Thek, the council and all who attended before showing a three-minute video of on one of the trails.

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