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Getting off the Road

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Getting off the Road

Guest writer Mark Savarese shares a community's effort to build a comprehensive trials plan

Groups of citizen volunteers are hard at work around Bonner County in 2009, working to create a comprehensive trails plan, which will become the basis for non-road travel in the county. Connectivity of existing trails and development of a system to suit all types of users are the key principles of the plan.

The idea for a comprehensive trails plan is not new. North Idaho Bikeways has been working to develop bike paths since the 1990s. Groups around Priest Lake have been developing networks of trails for summer and winter use for years. What is new is the idea of a comprehensive plan for the entire county.

In 2006, a group of concerned citizens led by former planner Marty Taylor and developer Robert Myers began to look at how other successful communities had developed trail networks. At about the same time, Bonner County Planning officials Erik Brubaker and Lori Burchett started working on a plan for the county. The two groups’ efforts combined to create a trails plan, which was submitted as a part of the 2008 Comprehensive Plan revision. The Comp Plan was adopted, and the county commissioners directed that a Trails Advisory Committee be formed and tasked to develop the plan.

The committee began work last year with organizational meetings and outreach projects. A technical committee was established to grapple with complicated issues such as rights of way, variances, and tax benefits for landowners. The county was divided into six regions: Binarch, Bee Top, Grouse, Baldy, Blacktail, and Hoodoo. The Baldy area includes the county land around the cities of Sandpoint, Ponderay, and Kootenai.

The Baldy group held their first organizational meeting on January 7, with 12 of its 22 volunteers. The group plans to meet monthly in the spring before commencing GPS navigation of its existing trails this summer. Hikers, horsemen, and bicyclists comprise the volunteer membership. Some are landowners who have trails on their property. Some have experience with GPS mapping; many do not. There are a few members who have years of volunteer experience with other groups, but for most, this is the first time working on such a project.

Using GPS technology, the volunteers plan to create a “virtual overlay” to county maps. As instructed by the county, the objective of each group will be to first gather the information on existing resources. Then the goal will become to establish needs and barriers.

“Needs” include such issues as access points, connectivity between existing trails, and routes to destinations of importance. “Barriers” include both physical barriers and political barriers, such as conflicts between motorized and non-motorized users, and restricted properties.

Leaders of the project have not issued a timeline for completion of the project, although all of the regional groups have plans to be working by this summer. The planning department hopes to have a staff member liaison with each of the regional groups.

For the area around Sandpoint, the Baldy subgroup plans to hold its next meeting the first week in April. Experienced GPS users will begin to teach volunteers how to use GPS to create trail maps. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer is welcome to join the group. Details can be obtained by contacting Dan Spinoza at the Bonner County planning office, 208-265-1458.

In the meantime, the group is collecting trail data in graphic and electronic form. Trail information can be dropped off at the office of Jon Sayler, at 534 Pine Street, or e-mailed to saylerjr(at)verizon.net.


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