An interested group of walking enthusiasts gathered at the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center Thursday to discuss the possibility of joining forces with the National Park Service to promote and develop a walking and/or bicycle path in Lovell or the surrounding area.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Chief of Interpretation Christy Fleming led the meeting as part of an idea to resurrect a project that was in the works a few years ago since the National Park Service is working on a project to connect the visitor center with the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center.
Sixteen members of the public attended the meeting, along with two Park Service employees.
“We get tons of questions about the wild horses, and then people have to get back into their car and drive over there (to the Mustang Center),” Fleming said in explaining the genesis of the “path to the Mustang Center” project. “It’s not that far, and we decided it would be a lovely walk.”
Fleming said she would like to see the sidewalk in front of the visitor center extended past new flower beds being developed, then somehow connect to the town of Lovell, and she also has a future idea for a path around the perimeter of the Park Service grounds at the visitor center. As planning developed, Fleming said she came up with the idea to bring back the walking path idea for the community.
“It was a good time to see if there’s still interest in a community trail,” she said.
An effort a few years ago led to a lot of planning, but ultimately the project faded away due to concerns about funding and maintenance, but project leader Marilyn Haskell and others were quick to encourage the resumption of the project during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I made some phone calls, and people don’t want to give up,” Fleming said. “I was by no means trying to set the path, but Marilyn gave me all of her notes for everything to make this happen in the past. She even had permission for easements.”
Ideas included a path from the senior center parking lot west to the Foster Gulch Golf Course and a path around Constitution Park in town.
Walking enthusiast Pat Crumrine said walking in town is difficult currently because sidewalks zig-zag in many areas – some next to the street and some not – and have dips for driveways. People want a nice, smooth path like the path around the Powell Aquatic Center or the path along the river in Greybull, she said. Haskell added that parking and access are keys, as well.
“Our town has a lot of people who walk. A walking path would be safer and more pleasant for everybody,” Phyllis Bronkema added.
Fleming said the key to the project will be commitment and active participation. She said people should not feel pressure to “do something you can’t or don’t want to do,” but there must be those who will carry the project forward.
“A lot of times where there’s a new idea there’s a lot of interest, but when it comes down to getting something done, interest drops and then there are one or two people doing it. I’m OK with coordinating it, and the Park is OK with coordinating the plan and bringing in the RTCA (Roads, Trails and Conservation Association) to help.
“But we’re not going to be the ram-rod, the ones going into the politics and landowners and grant writing. We need committee members where it goes from interest to commitment.”
Part of the process will involve research for grant-writing: how many people are walking, running and biking, where are they doing it, are the current routes safe and would more people run, walk and bike if there was a proper trail?
“We need facts for grant-writing,” Fleming emphasized. “We need to have a good plan” for where the path would go, accessibility needs, whether it would be a phased project and the like. Having someone good with CAD (computer-aided design) to draw out the trail would be nice, she added.
Then there’s funding, she said, including grants, donations, matching funds, corporate contributions, fundraising and path maintenance.
Another part of the equation, she said, is the politics: talking to the town, county, state, federal agencies, running and bicycling groups and obtaining easements an agreements.
“We’ll need lots and lots of volunteers,” Fleming said. “I know. It’s always fun to talk and dream about it until it comes down to the work.”
She asked those in attendance to put their interest on signup sheets placed in the lobby of the visitor center.
Jennifer Schneider said it would be a good idea to find out how the people of other area towns got the ball rolling in their community.
“RTCA would come in; they’re working in Cody now on a trail along the Shoshone River,” Fleming noted. “They will help us with how to get started, but not if we don’t have the commitment.
“We must decide where, what and when.”
Aubrey Walker said the group needs to decide “where we want it,” and others said their husbands work with CAD and could help with the mapping process.
“I’m willing to hold public meetings once a month until we get rolling or say ‘put a fork in it,’” Fleming said. “We could focus on something simple, go with our project (at the Park Service) and something small. But some have said let’s connect all of the communities with a path.”
She recommended getting small groups together, then coming back for a larger meeting in a month.
Gwen Walker suggested starting small and getting one phase done first, and Jill Carpenter said North Big Horn Hospital might facilitate a portion of a path at the facility to promote wellness. Schneider said her Youth Conservation Corp youth will help during the summer, noting that it would be good to get the YCC kids into the community for a project.
It was pointed out that, if community members and families are involved with building something, they’ll be invested in it and take care of it, and Boy Scouts could help with the project, as well.
Crumrine said there will be people who can’t make every meeting but will be willing to work, and LB Kummerfeld noted that interest will be generated as concrete ideas develop.
Fleming suggested coming back together each third Thursday of the month, which even works well during the upcoming holidays. The next meeting would be Nov. 19 – a week before Thanksgiving – at 7 p.m. at the visitor center, followed by a meeting on Dec. 17, a week before the Christmas holiday.
Fleming said the turnout Thursday was encouraging, and afterwards people lingered to discuss ideas and pore over maps. The topic of the November meeting will be proposed routes for the path, and Schneider challenged each person attending last week’s meeting to bring at least one friend in November who would be interested in helping.
By David Peck