Judge: Work can start on Central Idaho hiking-biking trail

Posted at 2:25 AM, Jun 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-18 11:28:18-04

BOISE, Idaho — Work can go forward on a trail crossing private land that connects the popular tourist destinations of Redfish Lake and Stanley, a judge has ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale late last week rejected a request by the owners of Sawtooth Mountain Ranch to halt construction of the 4.4-mile (7-kilometer) trail for pedestrians, cyclists, horseback riders and snowmobilers.

The U.S. Forest Service has a conservation easement deed dating to 2005 that allows a trail 30 feet (9 meters) wide to cross about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of private property.

Ranch owners David Boren and Lynn Arnone filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service in April seeking to halt work, contending the plan needs additional environmental reviews.

But Dale ruled the ranchers failed to show they were likely to succeed on the merits of their arguments. Specifically, Dale rejected a request to stop work while the lawsuit works through the court system. The U.S. Justice Department, which defends federal agencies in lawsuits, has until July 26 to respond to the initial complaint, according to court documents.

Boren is the founder and a board member of Clearwater Analytics, a financial management company headquartered in Boise. The secretary of state's office lists him as the registered agent of Sawtooth Mountain Ranch.

Boren and Arnone, in a statement sent through their attorney, said they were disappointed and were reviewing Dale's ruling.

"We remain of the view that the proposed trail raises unresolved concerns about public safety and sustainability," the statement said. "We will continue to pursue a dialogue with the Forest Service in the hopes of improving the construction, maintenance and use of any Stanley to Redfish trail."

Dave Coyner of Quality Asphalt Services has a contract to build the trail but hasn't received the OK from federal officials yet following the court ruling.

"I'm waiting for the green light," he said Monday.

He said the plan is to start on the north end of the trail near Stanley, a tiny mountain community heavily dependent on tourism. The northern end is where the easement is located through private land as well as some wetland areas that Boren and Arnone contend need additional environmental study.

Coyner said his company builds trails for the federal government around the country and is knowledgeable about working in wetland areas, and has narrow equipment to work within the easement area.

He said the lawsuit has set the project back more than a month, so it's likely it won't be finished this year in the high elevation area where winters come early.

The Forest Service for years has wanted to build the trail in the area that attracts thousands of tourists drawn to the rugged and scenic area that offers many outdoor recreation activities.

The trail is also part of a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015 creating three new wilderness areas in central Idaho.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho sought support for the wilderness areas for years among local residents, environmentalists and ranchers before finally finding the right mix.

The deal that emerged brought in more than $1.5 million for trail maintenance in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and includes money to build the new trail between Redfish Lake and Stanley.