Public access and Sustainable Recreation reside at the core of MLR’s mission to “enhance recreation, arts, culture, and mobility in the Eastern Sierra” and to connect the region’s three million visitors with their natural and cultural heritage. While visitation continues to increase and federal appropriated funding declines, “Promot[ing] effective communication with gateway communities to help foster partnerships […] that contributes to funding, implementation of projects, and long-term maintenance of facilities” (Inyo National Forest Land Management Plan) has become increasingly important.
This project builds upon twelve years of project planning and public outreach to leverage local resources and partnerships for the completion of »15 miles of non-motorized, multi-use trails that will connect to existing infrastructure, public transportation systems, scenic features and overlooks within the Sherwins Area Recreation Plan (SHARP) and Lakes Basin Special Study Area (LABSS) sub-regions. These planning efforts were adopted (SHARP) and accepted (LABSS) by Town Council, along with the Town of Mammoth Lakes Trail System Master Plan (2011), and further informed by the Town of Mammoth Lakes’s Walk Bike Ride Action Plan (2017) to promote “bicycle, pedestrian, transit, and parking alternatives within the community”. This project is intended to sustainably manage, complement, and maintain existing uses by providing new and sustainable infrastructure for the enjoyment of locals and visitors of the Mammoth Lakes region.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process begins when a federal agency develops a proposal to take a major federal action. The environmental review under NEPA can involve three different levels of analysis:
- Categorical Exclusion determination (CATEX)
- Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significant Impact (EA/FONSI)
- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
A federal action may be “categorically excluded” from a detailed environmental analysis if the federal action does not, “individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment”. CATEX are not exemptions or waivers of NEPA review; they are simply one type of NEPA review. To establish a categorical exclusion, agencies determine whether a proposed activity is one that, on the basis of past experience, normally does not require further environmental review. Once established, categorical exclusions provide an efficient tool to complete the NEPA environmental review process for proposals that normally do not require more resource intensive EA or EIS. The use of categorical exclusions can reduce paperwork and delay, so that EAs or EISs can be targeted toward proposed actions that truly have the potential to cause significant environmental effects. A federal agency can determine that a CATEX does not apply to a proposed action. The federal agency may then prepare an EA. The EA determines whether or not a federal action has the potential to cause significant environmental impacts. Federal agencies prepare an EIS if a proposed major federal action is determined to significantly affect the quality of the human environment.
The U.S. Forest Service ID Team is currently assessing the proposed project for any significant impacts to flora, fauna and cultural resources pursuant to the NEPA process. The ID Team is comprised of hydrologists, botanists, archaeologists, and wildlife biologists conducting both on-the-ground surveys and academic reachsearch and consultations as appropriate. The Town of Mammoth Lakes (implementing agency) will work with the U.S. Forest Service to mitigate any significant impacts through avoidance or other trail design elements where possible, or by eliminating portions of the proposal of appropriate mitigation cannot be achieved.
The average cost for construction of natural surface trails is $5 per foot. The cost of this project will be determined after the Mammoth District Ranger makes a decision on the proposed project and the final alignments are determined based on several factors. If the proposed action remains 15 miles, the cost of construction will be estimated at $396,000. The Mammoth Lakes Measure R Trails Program budget for 2020/2021 includes $683,519.56 in a fund balance for trail construction/capital projects. This funding is set aside for this project and others like it.
This project includes trails that are classified as multi-use, non-motorized natural surface trails. The trails will be designed and constructed to accommodate hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians. They will include the same trail user groups as other existing system trails like the Mammoth Rock Trail.