In an effort to improve the Bighorn River Blueway Trail for non-motorized watercraft, a collaborative committee is hosting several public meetings, with the goal of soliciting ideas and exciting …
In an effort to improve the Bighorn River Blueway Trail for non-motorized watercraft, a collaborative committee is hosting several public meetings, with the goal of soliciting ideas and exciting outdoors enthusiasts about the underused, yet remarkable resource.
The Bighorn River stretches more than 95 miles from the Wedding of the Waters near Thermopolis to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area near Lovell. It cuts through a wide variety of landscapes and offers outdoor recreation opportunities including fishing for 12 wild species, wildlife viewing, and camping.
Brooks Jordan, a district manager for Wyoming State Parks and co-facilitator for the project through the Bighorn Basin Outdoor Recreation Collaborative, has taken several trips down the Blueway trail and boasts of seeing “deer, turkeys, all kinds of waterfowl and beaver” while paddling the river.
“It’s just amazing how private and secluded and wild it is on the water when you’re below the highway and in a whole different world,” Jordan said.
The river, which is accessible to all levels of paddlers, meanders through cottonwood riparian areas, agricultural lands, municipalities, more industrial areas and badlands. Highlights include the canyons “where the river dissects the Sheep Mountain anticline and Little Sheep Mountain,” according to a press release from the committee.
Work on the trail — such as improving and increasing signage and access points, designating campgrounds, identifying and shoring up portage points at diversion dams and working with private landowners to avoid trespassing — will be done in phases. The group said it’s aware there will be challenges and hopes stakeholders and recreationists will share their concerns at one of several scheduled meetings this month.
The meetings will be held:
• at the Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center in Lovell from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22;
• at the Basin Arts Center from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, March 24;
• at the Worland Library from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29; and
• at the Thermopolis fire hall from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, March 31.
There will be separate stations at each meeting so people can talk one-on-one or in small groups with members of the committee.
“I encourage [the public] to participate and to be a part of the future of outdoor recreation so it can be what the communities would like it to be,” Jordan said, adding, “We don’t parachute in and dictate how things should change or evolve. But I think the [group] can help facilitate these community discussions so planning can turn into reality.”
There are several county, state and federal entities involved in the project, including the Park County Outdoor Recreation Collaborative. The trail work recently got a huge boost thanks to a technical assistance grant from the National Park Service Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.
Thermopolis, Worland, Manderson, Greybull, Basin and Lovell could all directly benefit from trail improvements. Businesses that sell or rent outdoor equipment, shuttle services, fishing guides, and overnight accommodations could see a significant boost as more tourist traffic floats by, the group predicts.
A 2015 report from the Center for Western Priorities reported the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument — which the collaborative says is comparable to the proposed Bighorn River Blueway Trail system — had a total economic impact of about $10 million per year and averaged 139,000 visitors annually.
Projects advocating outdoor recreation have been a trend statewide and nationally, Jordan said, saying it shows “that communities and states can benefit from enhanced outdoor recreation opportunities.”