Greater Yellowstone Trail
The Greater Yellowstone Trail Concept Plan establishes a vision for a world-class regional trail system that would enhance quality of life, improve access to recreation, and spur economic development opportunities for local communities along the unique and diverse corridor that connects three states.
We got some good news yesterday morning about the Teton Pass Trail – the Teton County Commissioners agreed to send a letter to the Wyoming FLAP (Federal Lands Accesss Program) Decision Committee, asking to revise and update their grant agreement for $500,000 in remaining FY-14 FLAP funds. With the Committee’s likely approval, it will allow Western Federal Lands to complete final design plans for the pathway and underpass connecting Victor’s pathway at state line up to the Trail Creek Campground. The balance of the funds will be used to further the preliminary design plans from the Campground to the top of the pass, and NEPA compliance as may be required.
This is in addition to Teton County recently approving plans to seek $1.4 million in new WY-FLAP funds, which if approved, would construct the pathway and underpass up to the Campground. That grant application is being prepared and is due May 19th.
On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Teton County Commissioners voted to submit a Federal Lands Access Program grant for the Teton Pass Trail. The grant application in the amount of $1.4 million will be a big boost to completing the Teton Pass Trail section of the Greater Yellowstone Trail.
The 180-mile Greater Yellowstone Trail (GYT) connects Jackson Hole Wyoming with West Yellowstone Montana via sections of the old Yellowstone rail line through Victor, Driggs, Tetonia, Ashton, and Island Park. Combining existing pathways and back roads, today the mixed paved and gravel route is rideable with roughly 70% complete, and offers an adventure filled experience.
In 2015 Wyoming Pathways helped lead a planning effort with local and regional partners that developed a Concept Plan for the GYT. The Concept Plan includes maps of the proposed route, descriptions of the existing trails and pathways, proposed projects needed to complete the GYT, and implementation steps.
Currently there are two construction projects underway at the Wyoming Idaho border that will add two miles of pathway towards the goal to link Wilson Wyoming and Victor Idaho over Teton Pass.
The projects were funded by grants from the Federal Land Access Program, which Wyoming Pathways helped prepare. Last week staff with the Western Lands Highway office met with project sponsors and partners in Wyoming and Idaho to review 30% design plans for the 2-mile project to connect from Moose Creek to Trail Creek Campground in Wyoming. Construction is planned in 2018. Teton County Wyoming will also start plans for the remaining 6-mile gap to the Teton Pass Summit, where cyclists can pick up the existing Old Pass Road and Jackson pathways that connect seamlessly all the way to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.
While you are waiting for the full trail connection, GYT partner Teton Valley Trails and Pathways has developed a great website to help plan a bicycle tour along the Yellowstone Rail Trail portion of the route. http://tetonrailtrail.tvtap.org
The Greater Yellowstone region is world-renowned for its stunning beauty, natural diversity, wildlife, pristine wilderness and abundant recreation opportunities. Communities within the region have sought to live in harmony with their environment by developing economies that simultaneously embrace, protect and leverage these assets. The concept of the Greater Yellowstone Trail seeks to provide residents and visitors alike with a sustainable, healthy and authentic way to experience the region’s unique environment. The Greater Yellowstone Trail Concept Plan formalizes a vision for a world-class regional trail system that would enhance quality of life, connect communities to public land and spur economic development opportunities for local communities along the unique and diverse corridor. The project would link two national parks, three national forests, two state parks and several municipal and county parks while simultaneously integrating regional history lessons and recreation opportunities for all seasons. The concept leverages previous investments and existing trails with new projects to develop a unified and consistently branded long-distance trail system. This plan recognizes the future trail as not only a quality of life improvement, but as an economic generator consistent with the priorities of the HUD Sustainable Communities Planning Grant that funded the Concept Plan.
The Greater Yellowstone Trail connects and overlaps with two established national bike routes, the TransAmerica U.S. Bicycle Route 76, and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Improvements along these established bike routes through Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park would enhance safety and create a 260-mile world-class biking loop.
In order to achieve the ambitious vision formalized by this concept plan, widespread coordination has been and will continue to be necessary. The planning process has engaged and been supported by a broad and diverse stakeholder group at federal, state and local levels. Continued cooperation among these entities will be critical in implementing new trail projects and ensuring the long-term success of the Greater Yellowstone Trail.
History, Connectivity and Economic Impact
The Greater Yellowstone Trail offers an experiential history lesson of the region. Historic stories and relics from a variety of periods including early Native American history, development of the world’s first National Park, 19th and 20th century railroad development and early 20th century agriculture can be observed and interpreted throughout the corridor. These opportunities for heritage and environmental tourism add to the broad appeal of the Greater Yellowstone Trail as a regional tourism destination.
The Greater Yellowstone Trail also connects to a variety of local, regional and national trail systems. Cross-continent routes such as the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, the Great Western Trail and multiple cross-country Adventure Cycling routes intersect or follow large segments of the trail. This connectivity enhances the Greater Yellowstone Trail’s potential economic impact as recent studies have shown touring cyclists spend, on average, more per day than other tourists. In addition, a concurrent economic study is analyzing the potential economic impacts of the Greater Yellowstone Trail. Although the results of this effort were not available at the time of this study, the economic impact analysis should offer an analytical evaluation of the fiscal impacts of a potential Greater Yellowstone Trail.
In order to fully realize the potential benefits of the Greater Yellowstone Trail, a number of proposed projects are needed to eliminate existing trail gaps, improve accessibility and provide a consistent trail experience from West Yellowstone to Colter Bay. In collaboration with project stakeholders, sixteen projects were identified to complete the Greater Yellowstone Trail. These include six projects in Wyoming, nine projects in Idaho and one project in Montana. Projects range from major renovation projects on existing trail segments to entirely new trail construction. Although the various land managers have been supportive of the concept of the Greater Yellowstone Trail, final decision-making regarding each proposed project ultimately lies with each respective agency.
New GYT Trail Construction Projects
There are several projects moving forward along the Greater Yellowstone Trail. The largest is the next phase of the Wilson WY to Victor ID pathway over Teton Pass. With the assistance of Wyoming Pathways, successful applications were approved in 2014 to construct over two miles of new pathway that will extend from Moose Creek near Victor to the ID/WY state line and into Wyoming to connect to Trail Creek Campground. Construction is planned for 2018.
Throughout the Planning Team’s public outreach process, the most commonly cited concern was long-term maintenance requirements of the proposed trail. Currently, segments of the trail are being maintained by various public agencies and supported by a mix of non-profit trail groups. In particular, public land managers have been increasingly challenged to provide sustained maintenance levels on their existing facilities with shrinking maintenance budgets.
Implementation and Action Steps
Implementing the vision established for the Greater Yellowstone Trail will likely require widespread coordination and commitment from the various stakeholders involved in the development of the Concept Plan. Creative partnerships will be necessary in developing capital projects and in structuring long-term maintenance.
The Greater Yellowstone Trail presents an amazing opportunity to enhance quality of life, improve access to recreation and public lands, and generate economic opportunities for residents of eastern Idaho, southwestern Montana and western Wyoming. Local communities throughout the corridor have already demonstrated a willingness to support, leverage and invest in trail development. The Snake River Pathway Bridge, Moose to Jenny Lake Pathway, the Ashton to Tetonia Rail Trail and the Victor-Driggs Pathway are testaments to what agencies and municipalities in this region are capable of achieving in regards to visionary trail projects. The Greater Yellowstone Trail seeks to build upon these past successes and focus future efforts to developing a world-class long-distance trail that will bring widespread benefits to the entire region.