Some landowners express concern over historic trail designation for Bozeman Trail | Wyoming News

Stephen Dow The Sheridan Press Via Wyoming News Exchange

SHERIDAN — Efforts to designate the Bozeman Trail as a National Historic Trail have continued in recent months with contact with hundreds of landowners, governments and Native American tribes along the route.

At a meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee last week, Sheridan resident Dave McKee said the public’s response to education efforts had been strong and that many landowners, governments and tribes had chosen to write letters of support. .

But the conversations also revealed concerns, particularly among landowners, about potential federal government overreach on private property along the trail route, McKee said.

During the committee meeting, Converse County rancher and former state representative Frank Moore shared some of those concerns.

“My concern is government overreach,” Moore said. “The designation of National Historic Trails is the responsibility of the Secretary of the Interior, who has the power to condemn if he believes there is a parcel of private land that should be used for this purpose. It’s very easy for someone in Washington, DC, to look at a piece of land… and say, “For the better, we should condemn this land” and use it for whatever they need, whatever it’s an interpretive center or a viewing area or whatever… While I think the Bozeman Trail is historically significant and important, we have to be careful what will actually happen if this is designated as a historic trail.

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McKee said similar concerns were heard during the recent National Historic Trail designation process for the Chisholm Trail, which runs from Texas to Kansas. The legislation for this NHT designation included additional language protecting private property rights, McKee said.

Tom Rea, Casper resident and president of the Wyoming chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association, agreed that the rights of private property owners will be protected throughout the process.

“The rights of landowners will be completely protected,” Rea wrote in a letter to the travel committee. “The NHT designation does not permit federal management or unauthorized public access on private lands.”

The outreach process is only part of the long road ahead for the National Historic Trail effort, McKee said.

The process, which will take at least four years, according to McKee, involves asking the US Congress for legislation twice. The first bill will direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a National Trail System Feasibility and Adequacy Study to assess whether the trail merits National Historic Trail designation.

If the study comes back with a positive recommendation, as McKee expects, Congress will have to pass another law listing the trail as a National Historic Trail.

With many years to come, there is still plenty of time to meet with landowners like Moore and ensure their concerns are addressed, according to Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper.

“I appreciate Mr. Moore’s comments and would appreciate if Tom and Dave try to get together (with the landowners) because I know that’s more than Mr. Moore’s concerns,” Sweeney said.

The Bozeman Trail — established in 1863 as a 535-mile shortcut from the Oregon Trail over the North Platte River near Casper to the gold fields around Virginia City, Montana — traverses private, state, and federally managed public lands in eight counties in Montana and five counties in Wyoming, including Sheridan County.

Proponents of the designation, including McKee and Rea, say designation of the Bozeman Trail as a National Historic Trail will provide clear and lasting documentation of the historic significance of the trail and the events that occurred along it. this. Additionally, the national designation will enhance preservation efforts, educational opportunities, and visitor experiences along the route while bolstering grant applications from museums, cities, counties, states, Native American tribes, federal land management agencies and non-profit organizations located along the trail.

National Historic Trail status would also increase interest in tours, which, in turn, would directly impact local economies, Rea said.

“Such a designation would provide clear and lasting documentation of the significance of the trail and the events that marked it in the 1860s to our national history for present and future generations,” Rea wrote in his letter. “NHT status would encourage tourists and other travelers to visit the already well-developed historic sites and museums along the trail corridor – and would also encourage new signage and interpretation at other lesser-known sites.”

Sites in Sheridan County that could potentially benefit from designation include Fort Phil Kearny and the Fetterman and Wagon Box battle sites near Story; Connor’s Battlefield near Ranchester; and the Bighorns Museum in Sheridan, Rea said.

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