Taking advantage of the (finally) sunny weather and (mostly) clear skies. PHOTO BY KEELY LARSON

The veins that wind through Big Sky

Looking at connectivity and diversity of trail use
“When I moved here a few years ago, one of the things I noticed is there are all these great trails, short ones, but they’re not connected,” Natalie Osborne said

The trail system in Big Sky lays out the veins of the community. A Master Trails Plan, the heart, if you will, was finished in Jan 2019 and provides a blueprint for any future trails and a standard for how to maintain current ones. Madison County has developed this as a part of their growth plan for the Big Sky portion of Madison County and the same idea is in the works in Gallatin County. This plan includes 19 miles of non-motorized trails used recreationally and as means of transportation. Public input was compiled via surveys at Farmer’s Markets and Music in the Meadow last summer. 

“These are the most desired trail connections within the community and that’s going to be kind of a guiding document as we plan the next five to ten years of trail development,” Adam Johnson explained, Parks and Trails Director with Big Sky Community Organization (BSCO).

“When I moved here a few years ago, one of the things I noticed is there are all these great trails, short ones, but they’re not connected,” Natalie Osborne said, race director for the Big Sky Biggie, which will launch its second year this August. One of her goals in bringing a mountain bike race to Big Sky was to show the area that if it wanted to be a summer biking destination, it had to have the trail system to inspire. 

“We have three bike shops here. People love riding their bikes!” exclaimed Osborne. “There were a large number of people who entered (the race) last year and it was their first bike race ever,” she continued, making note that those people were residents of Big Sky.

Osborne is grateful to BSCO and the landowners of Big Sky that allow her to create 30 and 50 mile courses for her race. Forest Service and private land owners’ permission must be gained if the Biggie is to encroach upon their backyards. “Everybody in this community is extremely supportive,” she said, but acknowledges misunderstandings. “There’s always one or two naysayers. People say no to what they don’t understand,” she reasoned. The general consensus has been positive in her experience.

“I produce an event, but I rely on BSCO to tell me what trails I can and cannot use. It’s BSCO that’s paving the way to make this possible,” Osborne explained. The proceeds from the Biggie all go to BSCO for trails specifically.

BSCO is working on connecting the Mountain to Meadow trail this summer as well. “The connection will assist in preventing user conflicts while providing a fun, safe route all the way to town,” the BSCO website described. All of the specifics, easements and licenses, are in place to make this happen, Johnson added. He also defined an easement as, “an agreement between a land owner and an organization or individual person that allows access across a piece of property,” which is a huge part of trail development in town.

Easements can be used for many facets including public, recreational and utility purposes. One easement that had to be worked out to complete the Mountain to Meadow connection involved the Poop Chute. In case one is unfamiliar, Johnson explained the Poop Chute as the section of the trail containing a pipe underneath, which connects Big Sky Resort to the water treatment plant in the Meadow. The Poop Chute never had a public easement, so technically it was not open to the public. Currently, the goal is to obtain a recreational easement for this section that would provide public access to this spot.

“Easements are not a fast process, but if stuff happened to go fast we would look at building some trails,” Johnson stated when asked about any extra summer projects. If things fell into place rather quickly, BSCO would move forward with developing a trail that would tie into the South Fork trails on Spruce Cone Drive, from Morningstar Learning Center and across Ousel Falls Road, five feet wide and stroller friendly.

Additionally, the Tiger Grant Big Sky received will allow for a connection between the Town Center and the Meadow Village without involving highway crossing. “This project is in part of the organization’s pedestrian safety and connectivity goal in the Big Sky Trails Master Plan,” the BSCO website expressed. “Hopefully it will make it easier for kids to reach Kircher Park, too,” Johnson voiced.

If trails are the veins, then the people in this town are the blood cells bringing everything to life. There has to be a lot of conversation between these cells to make sure everything in the whole organism runs smoothly. Osborne works with the Lone Mountain Ranch to make sure her bikers get through that property before 9 a.m. when horse tours start. She also checks in with the Resort to try and negate any collisions with Bike Haul pass holders.

“It is a fine-tuned course as far as how it works with timing of other operations, other entities, with weather and with traffic. We don’t have a lot of wiggle room and putting it together was really painstakingly hard,” Osborne stressed.

Looking at the future of the trail system in Big Sky, Osborne commented on a couple of concerns. She explained how there will always be conflicts with horse outfitters, mountain bikers and hikers. Each one of those groups uses trails in different ways and sometimes those ways may negatively affect a different crowd. “With our limited miles of single track that we have now, if we don’t grow our single track network, we’re going to have a problem,” Osborne warned.

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