2020 Report: Relationships, Black Hills-wide

In 2017 Black Hills Trails entered into a Forest-wide volunteer agreement with the Black Hills National Forest. In each year subsequent BHT volunteers have put countless hours into maintaining 100+ miles of existing Forest Service system trails to keep them open for all users. The Centennial Trail, Buzzards Roost, Tinton, Rimrock, Little Spearfish, Deerfield, and Deerfield Lake Loop trails have all received lots of attention from volunteers, and many volunteer partners are committed to continuing to improve these trails.

Also in 2017, Mark Van Every, Supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest, asked Black Hills Trails to step up and assume the role of partner in grooming trails for over-snow cycling (fat biking) use. This request came to us from the Forest because there was a growing demand for fat-bike-specific trails, increasing animosity on both sides about the use of fat bikes on existing groomed snowmobile routes, and there was simply no one else equipped to lead a collaborative grooming effort. In early 2018 Black Hills Trails met with Mark Van Every as well as Steve Kozel, Northern Hills District Ranger, and Bonnie Jones, who manages recreation on the Northern Hills District and demonstrated fat biking trails and grooming equipment. Many great partnerships have been established that have helped the volunteers keep grooming, such as a grant from Black Hills Area Community Foundation for equipment, and support from many local businesses and bike shops. Some grooming in the Spearfish area has since been taken over by a new organization known as G.A.S., whose focus is specifically on over-snow trails near the community of Spearfish.

Black Hills Trails shows Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Mark Van Every different grooming equipment, including a “track sled” before enjoying a Fat Bike ride with Forest staff.

The Black Hills Trails board of directors sincerely appreciated Supervisor Van Every’s active and hands-on approach to Forest Management and was sad to hear about his retirement at the end of 2019. Following almost a year of individuals temporarily filling the seat, the new permanent Forest supervisor, Jeff Tomac, assumed the role in late 2020. We look forward to continuing our significant forward momentum under his leadership.

In large part because of the Black Hills Trails push to make the Deadman Backcountry Trail Project happen, now known as the Sturgis Trail System, the National Forest Advisory Board was tasked with creating a process under which future trail proposals would be evaluated and a Trail Strategy was the result. Numerous proposals were submitted almost immediately after the multi-year process, known as the TPP (Trail Proposal Process) was complete. The Tinton Trail System and Shanks Quarry Trail System were green-lit as the first projects to move forward under this new proposal process. Feedback was provided on the other proposals, which will be possible to improve upon and resubmit in the future. Expect to see more information about Shanks as part of a Rapid City Zone update to be released soon.

The first of these re-submissions will likely be for the Little Elk Creek trail. Black Hills Trails has collaborated with many individuals and groups within the community of Piedmont on this proposal through a series of public meetings led by Vision Piedmont. Working through this and past proposals we have found there are often potential conflicts between user groups, with neighboring landowners or land managers, and often also with access, improvements, and who will be responsible for maintaining the trail and associated improvements in the long term. Collaborating with stakeholders in advance is the best way to identify these conflicts and ultimately create a trail and associated infrastructure that is conflict-free. Oftentimes the work that is done early to resolve any potential conflicts actually results in a significantly better trail system, better parking, and better access, a better result for everyone involved. We are confident the proposal developed for Little Elk Creek will be a substantial improvement for both trail users and everyone in and around the Piedmont Valley, especially nearby landowners. We are currently delaying the submission of that proposal pending formal contracts for construction and maintenance of the proposed Shanks Quarry system.

Black Hills Trails was excited and honored to build not one but two trails to support the Youth Mountain Bike Race Series hosted by the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association (BHMBA) and their partners. Both the trails in Sturgis and Rapid City were constructed with the youth events in mind, but were engineered to make excellent additions to the overall trail landscape. Additional details about these two trails will be included in the Rapid City and Sturgis updates to be released soon.

The start of the Elementary School Division race in Sturgis during the inaugural running of the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association Youth Mountain Bike Race Series.

BHT has repeatedly partnered with Sturgis Ambulance for CPR/First Aid training for not just BHT volunteers but other volunteer groups as well. This safety training is required for some of the other certifications needed to perform volunteer activities, such as the S212 chainsaw certifications many active volunteers hold. It is also important to know those you are doing work with in the field are able to take care of you if anything should ever happen to go wrong. We are proud to continue to enhance the qualifications and abilities of our volunteer crews and enable volunteers to efficiently and safely perform major construction and maintenance tasks. Now that COVID vaccinations are well underway we will be working to re-establish group training sessions that were skipped in 2020.

We have also been blown away by the support that has grown out of our local communities in terms of labor and funding in the past several years. When we have worked to create opportunities to put trail on the ground, all of you have shown up to make sure any funding challenges were met so that trail could happen, and you have shown up with tools in hand ready to make it happen. Much of this support and funding has been unsolicited, offered by individuals and businesses who have seen a positive impact on the ground and contacted us wanting to know how they could help. Each and every individual who has shown up and earned some sweat on a volunteer day or has put a check in the mail, you are the reason we have gotten done what we have, and you will continue to be the reason we get things done as long as you are able to offer your support. After re-organizing Black Hills Trails into three zones covering Rapid City, Spearfish, and Sturgis, some of the decisions about where and how to allocate funding became, quite frankly, tricky. Fortunately, because we have also developed some long-standing funding sources, such as an annual contribution by Trail Addict, we have been able to keep all the money raised within these communities inside these communities.

We have committed a faux pas over the last three years in being distracted by the work and forgetting that just as important as going to meetings and advocating for new and improved trails is communicating these challenges and successes to our best asset, our volunteers and supporters. Having gone three years without publishing a major update we have accumulated a large enough update we decided to split it up into independent per-zone updates. The progress presented above is only that which isn’t specific to any of our community Zones, you can expect to see similar updates for Rapid City, Spearfish, and Sturgis soon, as well a couple of project-specific updates to follow.

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