County May ask Mountain Bikers to ‘Share’ Proposed Centennial Trail System
David Bauer shows where he imagines the trail system to be if it is approved to become a county park
Talks surrounding a proposed mountain bike trail are moving in a direction that could mean future mountain bikers will share the road with college livestock.
The Centennial Section is a square, 640-acre plot of land that sits between Hannum Road and U.S. Highway 59, south of Northern Drive and North of Northwest Park.
It’s the proposed site for Gillette’s very own mountain bike and trail running course, but the county and Gillette College need to hash out a few details before the trail becomes a reality.
Share the trail
Currently, the county leases the land to Gillette College, which uses it as grazing land for livestock owned by the rodeo program.
But allowing the construction of a trail system would mean two things: either the college will need to find other pastures for its livestock or Energy Addicts, the organization leading the trail system effort, will have to settle for sharing the trail.
David Bauer, founder of Energy Addicts, had said previously that livestock was one of the reasons why he did not move to install the track at Burnt Hollow, an 18,000 acre tract of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, north of Gillette.
Ranchers graze their cattle on the land, Bauer had said. He was concerned that mountain bikers, travelling at high speed and jumping across ravines, could crash into livestock, resulting in severe injury.
Janell Oberlander, CEO and vice president of Gillette College, said that talks with the head of her rodeo department, Will LaDuke, have started on what options are available if the Centennial section becomes a mountain bike trail system.
Not public property
Before a public mountain bike trail system is approved, however, the county needs to decide whether or not the public should be allowed access to the Centennial Section at all.
During the regular commission meeting Tuesday, April 16, Commissioner Rusty Bell said his understanding of the Centennial section’s status as county-owned land is that it’s public, and the public has unrestricted access to it.
“I would think that the public’s perception is, that’s their property,” Bell said.
Deputy County Attorney Carol Seeger, however, pointed out that Bell’s perception is not entirely accurate. She said that the land is owned by the County, which means the county can decide who uses it and how.
Commissioner Mark Christensen added that, when the County purchased the Centennial Section, it was never the commission’s intention to allow unrestricted public access to it. Originally, the land had been intended for development as a landfill transfer station.
“Just because we own it, as a public entity, does not mean it’s publicly accessible,” he said.
While the county has opened up some of their lands to the public in the past, the County is by no means under an obligation to do so, he continued.
“I personally don’t consider the Centennial Section to be public property right now,” Christensen concluded.
“Every piece of land in Wyoming is leased by a landowner and every piece of accessible state land in Wyoming is eligible for other activities on it,” he said. “I don’t know why this would be any different.”
Gillette College is concerned with liability as well, Oberlander said.
Currently, the college maintains liability within the Centennial Section with little issue. Mostly because the number of people on the property is relatively low.
But if it becomes a public trail system, the college doesn’t want to be held liable for injuries, such as a mountain biker running into a horse.
Commissioner Bob Maul said, if the trail is approved, he would be in favor of each entity using it to maintain their own liability, similar to organizations that utilize the Cam-Plex facilities.
Robert Palmer, commissioner administrative director, said that the Centennial section, if the trail is approved, could be handled similarly to the BLM and USFS, at least in terms of liability.
A lot of BLM and USFS land is open range and is used by ranchers to graze their herds. When someone ventures out there, they know that running into cattle or horses is possible, Palmer said.
“When you come across them, they move off. If they don’t, you go around,” he continued.
Nothing is certain regarding the future, if one exists, for the proposed Centennial trail system.
The County has expressed that the trail is a good idea, but there are also a lot of moving parts.
And there’s still the issue with the college lease at hand too, though Oberlander assured the commission that the college will continue discussions to determine the best way to move forward.