By Zach Hagadone
The Little Sand Creek Watershed Recreation Plan has been given the greenlight, after Sandpoint city councilors voted unanimously June 7 to approve the document at their regular meeting.
After a year of active planning, followed by many more years of conversation among various landowners and recreational users on the nearly 7,413-acre property — 3,921 acres of which are owned by the city and held primarily as a water source — the plan puts in place a raft of action items and concepts touching on everything from conservation and placemaking to the construction of a network of trails for use by bicyclists, hikers and backcountry skiers.
Incorporating feedback and collaboration with fellow landowners Schweitzer, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Department of Lands, the city is looking ahead to the future of the watershed as performing multiple roles, including water supply, commercial timber harvesting and a larger recreational footprint.
A network of trails were created by users in the watershed over the past almost two decades, and made formal by a 2015 agreement between the city and local biking organization Pend Oreille Pedalers. Today, those trails cover 13.5 miles and are maintained by POP, and according to the newly adopted recreation plan could expand by an additional 52 miles of trail — primarily in the “lower basin” area, where the bulk of POP’s existing trails are located.
Sandpoint Parks Planning and Development Manager Maeve Nevins-Lavtar told council members that the final plan included some slight changes from her previous presentation at the May 17 meeting of the City Council, notably expansion of the buffer zones along year-round fish-bearing streams to 300 feet of slope distance — in keeping with the U.S. Forest Service’s policy.
“We are at the conceptual, 30,000-foot level,” Nevins-Lavtar said, noting that while there are ideas for how to build out the trail network in the watershed, “it is still conceptual, and they are not much more than lines on paper.”
Still, adopting the plan put the city in the position of creating a committee to get the process started on identifying trail locations and creating designs, though a multitude of steps will have to be undertaken before users see any substantial changes on the property. That isn’t expected to begin until 2024.
City officials and community members alike applauded the plan, noting that POP has been engaged with trail building in the area since 2004.
“[I’m] really excited to move forward with it, protect it and make it better,” said Councilor Deb Ruehle, who has for years worked on watershed-related issues.
“It’s been amazing what POP has built here in this community,” said Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad, later adding, “Now we have a recreation plan for our watershed that has ubiquitous community support — everybody’s behind this.”
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