By Bella Butler EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
BIG SKY – Two new trail projects were completed in late August at Big Sky. Although short in distance, these trails will go a long way to increasing access to public lands and connecting some of the most used trails in the community.
Tanner’s Way (North Fork Connector)
On August 9, about a week before the new trail was completed, the arm of a mini-digger clawed at the ground, uprooting dirt and loose rock. Sitting in the machine, Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association trail manager Patrick Rooney drives the shovel forward. A freshly dug path winds behind him towards the horizon.
The trail is Tanner’s Way, a 1.7 mile two-way hiking and biking link between the Meadow Village area and the North Fork trailhead. Now years in the making, the trail is the product of public demand, private partnership and local collaboration.
SWMMBA built the trail and will continue to maintain it, and community organization Big Sky holds the easements for the trail, which crosses private land owned by the Kircher and Noble families.
The public showed great interest in such a trail when community organization Big Sky conducted a survey to inform its 2019 Trails Master Plan. After the survey was released, Kim Kircher reached out to SWMMBA to find out how she and her husband, John, could help bring the item to the community’s wish list.
BSCO got involved last fall to secure permanent easements on behalf of the public with the Kirchers
and the nobles. For both families, the agreement was a no-brainer.
“John and I have a long history in the recreation industry at Big Sky,” Kim wrote in an email to EBS. “This trail project is an example of many landowners and organizations working together to open up access to our community. This becomes more important as Big Sky grows.
For the Nobles, the servitude was an opportunity to contribute to the mountain biking community in Big Sky as well as a way to honor the memory of their late son, Tanner.
As described by his father, Kevin, Tanner was a kind and bright young man with a “gigawatt smile”. Named for Montana, Tanner was imbued with a love for the state where his family lived part-time. Just before his 19th birthday in July 2017, Tanner died of heart disease while riding his bike in Big Sky.
“He would like the idea of us pedaling around the back of the property on the trail and going downtown to Big Sky Town Center or going up North Fork,” Kevin said. “He and I used to ride North Fork all the time. And so this whole area is special to us.
Part of the value of Tanner’s Way is the access it provides to public lands, according to Adam Johnson, director of parks and trails for BSCO. Much of the North Fork area is on Custer-Gallatin National Forest Service lands and ultimately connects to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, but currently the only way to access these lands is to drive to the start of the trail. In the same survey that indicated public interest in a North Fork Link Trail, 40% of respondents said they often walked or cycled to get around Big Sky. Trails like Tanner’s Way expand those opportunities and relieve crowded trailheads, Johnson said.
“We’re all private land in the downtown core, and it’s all a way to be able to access those public lands,” Johnson said. “With all the private [land] around, there is not so much way to get out and go. Once we bring people to public lands, they can disperse and recreate.
Max Erpenbach, trails director for SWMMBA’s Big Sky Chapter, said Tanner’s Way was a community effort from start to finish. It was the community that asked for it, recalls Erpenbach of the Master Trails Plan, and it was the community that got him to the finish line, from local organizations and landowners to volunteers digging the last rocks and roots.
In addition to machine work, SWMMBA held five evening volunteer sessions on Tanner’s Way, with five to 15 volunteers showing up each night.
“A lot of people supported it from the start and people were excited to see it, and then it took a community to help finish it,” Erpenbach said.
Tanner’s Way currently ends up on Montana Highway 64 west of the tunnel near the fork to Lone Mountain Ranch. BSCO and SWMMBA plan to further connect the trail to the city by obtaining an encroachment permit from the Montana Department of Transportation to construct a path from the trail to Little Coyote Road. Currently, cyclists and hikers can use the highway to connect to the Meadow.
Adam and Tele connector (Hummocks/Uplands connector)
For more than five years, Johnson has made progress for parks and trails since his time at BSCO. Now moving on to new opportunities, Johnson’s impact will be celebrated with a connecting trail that joins the Hummocks and Uplands trails near downtown.
Named for Johnson and his dog, Adam and Tele’s Connector weaves through meadows of young pine trees for just over half a mile. Although it’s a bike ride or a brisk walk, Johnson said the connector allows the two separate trails to provide a broader experience.
“Just a little connection opens up the possibility of connecting the trails in a different way to make them much longer,” he said. “Simple connections can create loops that, depending on how you put them together, can add many miles.”
Since its acquisition of Town Center from the Simkins family in May, local development group Lone Mountain Land Company has owned the land on which Hummocks and Uplands sit and Adam and Tele’s Connector was established with the company’s support.
“We are thrilled to partner with BSCO on the trail expansion,” said Matt Kidd, LMLC General Manager. “The Connection Trail is a small piece of the overall trail connectivity and trail work we are working on and we look forward to sharing more details over the coming months.”
Hummocks and Uplands are currently available for public use on an agreement basis, according to Kidd.
Adam and Tele’s Connector will be part of the Big Sky Biggie Mountain Bike Race course on August 27th.