Bears, Pump Tracks and Trespassing
It’s not a Bear Stewardship Committee meeting without some talk about who’s seen any bears lately. Most recently, reports via social media are coming in that a big bear with two cubs has been in the Mountain to Meadow Trail area. Some say it’s a grizzly, but it could be a rather large black bear. Another bear has been seen around 320 Ranch.
2017 saw a big jump in bear-related conflicts in Big Sky, despite the increase in bear-resistant trash cans. Kris Inman with the Wildlife Conservation Society noted this could be related to 2017 being a dry year, but opened up the issue for discussion. Most of the issues arose in the Mountain and Meadow areas of Big Sky, where most homes actually use the more secure trash cans.
“So we are just trying to figure out where those gaps are coming from,” Inman said. “Are the trash cans being used correctly? Left out overfilled? Or is it a question of habitat?”
Later in the meeting, Kevin Frey of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks called in. He works directly with the bears of Big Sky, coming to the area when issues arise. Frey said bear-resistant cans do work, but he’s seen issues arise with coolers.
“There are generations of bears that have grown up, lived and got old in Big Sky,” Frey said. “It’s a real secure spot to be… and they are now used to living here and being around people. If you leave something out, they’re going to find it. It’s like a black bear refuge, and grizzlies are showing signs that they’re going to find it too. It really is about habitat.”
Getting Bear Smart
The Bear Stewardship Committee is finalizing a bear smart certification program for home owners associations, but noted at the June 13 meeting that the challenge lies in enforcement.
“We’re not the law, so it’s a very challenging issue,” said Paula Alexander, communications and events coordinator for the Big Sky Owners Association.
The committee recognized they can’t inspect every home, and wondered if there was a way to set up a reporting system, perhaps with ambassadors that could go “boots to the ground” pointing out issues. Recognizing that this “neighborhood watch-ish program” could become a negative process, the group brought up the social media campaign they’re working on, which uses Bernadette the Bear to convey bear smart messages. Perhaps Bernadette could be the one educating the community about bear smart offenses and successes.
And if a homeowner is blatantly disregarding bear smart practices, Frey noted that there are state statutes with warnings and fines that could apply.
The committee agreed to continue working on the certification program, saying they did not want to make it official until it was fine tuned and effective.
Trails Committee Update
First on the agenda at the Trails Committee meeting on the afternoon of June 13 was the addition of a pump track to the Big Sky Community Park. Joe Muggli, bike mechanic at Grizzly Outfitters, proposed the idea to the group after his attempt to build one at his home was shot down.
Muggli explained that a pump track is for all types of bikes, and uses berms and features to keep momentum. The track is useful in honing in skills and learning handling. It would be non-permanent, and could be relocated if necessary, “to go with the flow.”
The track would be located behind the skate park, and a local company has already offered to provide equipment and the dirt needed to build the track. More than 30 bikers also have expressed interest in lending a hand getting it built.
“The biggest thing is that anybody on any type of bike could get on it and have a good time,” said Muggli. The idea will be shared with the BSCO Board of Directors in July.
The BSCO was recently granted $45,000 via a state recreation trails program. The money is specifically earmarked for Beehive Basin. That was only half of what the BSCO had asked for—the other half not approved being upgrades for the Ousel Falls parking area, adding more parking, a bathroom and a bus pull through.
Despite not receiving the funds for Ousel Falls, Adam Johnson, BSCO project manager, said the plan is to move forward with paving the pull through, leaving the rest gravel and not adding any additional parking or a second bathroom in order to save money. (BSCO also received funding through resort tax. Stay tuned for more coverage about that.)
Mountain to Meadow
The popular Mountain to Meadow Trail came up several times at the meeting. Johnson noted the TIGER grant awarded to Big Sky this spring might allow for the expansion of the paved pedestrian path along Lone Mountain Trail, potentially linking the Town Center to Andesite Road near Hidden Village, which would better connect the trail to town.
“It wouldn’t come out of our pocket… paved trails are expensive so we want to get as much paved as possible out of that grant,” Johnson said. The BSCO will need to look into grading requirements as the hill is steep as well as how Andesite Road and Lone Mountain Trail will be affected by the addition of a turn lane at the intersection. Easements will also come into play.
Most public trails in Big Sky rely on easements between private landowners and the BSCO, the Mountain to Meadow Trail being no exception. Unfortunately, users of the trail have been biking in an area that does not allow public access. A jack rail fence was in place, but was torn down. Talks are ongoing and underway to gain more easements in order to create a more cohesive route, but in the meantime, bikers need to stick to the designated trail.
A large, easily read sign notifying bikers to exit to the paved roads once completing the trail is planned to be installed soon. There was also talk of adding information about how generous landowners choose to allow trail access, and that going onto private land ultimately affects all trail users.
“The message really needs to be that BSCO is working on getting easements for the Mountain to Meadow Trail and if people keep abusing the private land it’s never going to happen,” said committee member Christine Baker.
The BSCO Parks Committee had a short meeting on the evening of June 14, discussing this summer’s effort to improve the Kircher Park Trail, adding bridges over wet spots. A grant application is also in progress to add a swing, climbing area and picnic table to the park.
In other parks business: If it ever stops raining, plans are underway to seal the Community Park parking lot. Also, new nets were installed in the softball field dugout, and new signage is being installed at the disc golf course, which will include the box-to-basket distance and par.