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Monument trail plan ready for public comment
August 01, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
A plan for future development of the trail system around Scotts Bluff National Monument has been completed and is now ready for public inspection.

Nine graduate students from the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln spent two full semesters on the project under the direction of professors of Landscape Architecture and Landscape Ecology.

“The students were able to develop their specialty areas of interest during the study,” said Monument Superintendent Ken Mabery. “Some of them were interested in the GIS work, others worked on viewsheds. Another was interested in the design of the trail system. I think we got a real strong team project out of it.”

The students developed the trail plan during September and October 2012. Once it was completed, it needed to be analyzed by the Environmental Protection Specialist with the regional office of the National Park Service. Further refinements were made to the plan so they fit in with the Park Service’s overall policy on environmental and cultural preservation.

The completed plan is now available for public comment through Aug. 20. Pertinent comments will be incorporated into the plan, which should be ready in September.

Another suggestion from the plan is what Mabery called “an idea whose time should have come earlier.” He said e-trails, or electronic trails, is something that hasn’t been done in the parks systems before.

“E-trails are great for a number of reasons,” he said. “Taxpayer money isn’t wasted on designing and building a physical trail. We just go out and identify GPS waypoints, people download the information to their mobile device and that becomes the trail. Plus, if we need to move the trail, it’s just a matter of moving the waypoints.”

Another ongoing challenge has been how to best utilize the Badlands area north of the monument. A proposal in the final trail plan is for a bike lane to come across the river and stay down by the river, out of the viewshed. The lane also avoids areas where erosive soils can become a problem. There would also be a hiking trail across the Badlands.

“This was a wonderful, innovative approach,” Mabery said.

“We’d never thought of separating the two uses out. From a management perspective, the plan protects the fossils in the area.”

He added the plan meets both the goals of the Park Service and the community. Plus, it’s very sustainable and cost efficient.

If all the final plans go smoothly, the plan should be signed by the National Park Service in early September. That fits in well with plans from Gering and Scotts Bluff County to extend the bike trail from the end of U St. south toward the Legacy of the Plains Museums and then out to the monument visitor center.

“That project was the most expensive one, so it was a concern,” Mabery said. “It couldn’t have worked out better with the city getting grant funding to complete it. And after people are using the bike trail, there’s an opportunity for more future funding to extend the trail through Mitchell Pass out to Highway 92.”

Interested members of the public can access and comment on the plan by going to http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=44254.
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