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After more than a year in development, the Trail Plan for Scotts Bluff National Monument will be released for 30-day public comment on July 22.The comment period closes August 20 at midnight. Public presentation of the plan will occur at an Open House on July 30, from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm, at the Farm And Ranch Museum.
A Studio of fifth-year Landscape Architecture students from UN-L took public comments to guide the initial development of the Trail Plan in September and October of 2012.Over the next months, the Studio of nine students hiked all over the monument, exploring the possibilities.Applying their knowledge of landscape architecture to this field situation proved to be "a challenging and wonderful learning experience," according to Professor Bret Betnar, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, UN-L, who lead the Studio. "Each student found their specialty interest in this project. Their interests complemented each other in a way that it all came together seamlessly," he added.
Once the National Park Service received the Studio's recommendations, the task of analyzing their alternatives fell to James Lange, Environmental Protection Specialist with the Midwest Regional Office in Omaha.This stage involved development of the Environmental Assessment according to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) standards. Further refinement of the Studio's alternatives occurred at this stage based on application of NPS policy and analysis of potential environmental and cultural resource impacts.
"The final plan as presented for public review includes options to connect monument trails with the communities' Monument Valley Pathways system, and some innovative new trail concepts," said Monument Superintendent Ken Mabery.Betnar added that "the students developed the idea of eTrails, or trails that are established by electronic means such as GPS devices and smartphones." Mabery is excited to try this new concept at Scotts Bluff because it could significantly reduce the cost of implementing the new trails. "Once this plan is signed, the next step is to find money to start implementing approved trails," said Mabery. "Over the next years we will be seeking grants and other non-federal funds to develop the trails allowed by this plan," he added.
According to the current schedule, the 30-day comment period closes on August 20.All comments will be analyzed and taken into account before issuing the approved and signed Trail Plan around the first of September. Some community leaders have submitted for a grant that, if awarded, could potentially be used to make a new community connection to the monument at a Trail Plan approved location.
"Many members of the Scottsbluff/Gering community have been involved in development of the plan to this stage.We hope these and other interested community members will come to the July 30th Open House at the Farm And Ranch Museum to see a short presentation, and learn what could become the final plan. Short PowerPoint orientation presentations will be made at 5:00 and 6:00 pm. Members of the development team will be on hand for discussions and question and answers between 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm," Mabery said. Interested members of the public can access and comment on the plan by going tohttp://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=44254.