Sourdough Trail / Forest

The U.S. Forest Service is ramping up prep work for the Bozeman Municipal Watershed project, a mix of logging and burning meant to decrease the severity of any wildfire that hits the two drainages that make up the town’s water supply.

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A popular trail south of Bozeman is set to close to the public for at least four weeks starting on Oct. 4, officials announced on Friday.

Crews will block off access to the Sourdough Canyon Trail and its trailhead temporarily while helicopters lift timber and carry it over the trail, according to the Custer Gallatin National Forest and city of Bozeman.

The work is part of the Sourdough Fuels Reduction project, an approximately 350-acre logging project on city-owned land just outside of Bozeman.

Logging on city land is meant to complement the Forest Service’s Bozeman Municipal Watershed project, which calls for about 4,700 acres of forest thinning, logging and prescribed burning between Hyalite Creek and Bozeman Creek.

Both projects aim to protect the city’s primary supply of drinking water in the event that a large wildfire sweeps through the Gallatin Front. The Hyalite and Bozeman creek drainages supply 80% of the city’s water.

Brian Heaston, a city engineer and the Sourdough Fuels Reduction project manager, said the project’s ground-based logging treatments have already started. Officials expect it will conclude toward the end of October.

During the beginning phase of the project, people may hear noise from heavy equipment, but public access won’t be disrupted.

Timber cutting will begin on Sept. 27. On Oct. 4, helicopters will start flying timber through the area.  To protect the public while logs cross overhead, the Sourdough Canyon Trail is scheduled to close for a four-week period starting on Oct. 4, Heaston said.

“Earlier in the summer, we heard loud and clear from the community that they wanted to see the work done as quickly as possible,” Heaston said.

“We’re going to close the trail down to (so the logging operator) can get the work done as quickly as possible on the east side of the canyon.”

While the Sourdough Canyon Trail is blocked, people won’t be able to enter or exit the canyon via the trailhead.

“Any recreationists who are accessing Sourdough Canyon above the project area through other routes in — through other trailheads — will not be able to leave through the Sourdough Canyon Trailhead itself during that closure period,” Heaston said.

Signs about the closure will be posted at the road leading into Sourdough Canyon, at the trailhead itself and at other trailheads with routes leading into the project area, according to officials.

Once the Sourdough Canyon Trail reopens, the public should expect to see some log trucks hauling timber on it and “constant flight traffic,” Heaston said.

Corey Lewellen, Bozeman district ranger for the Custer Gallatin National Forest, said crews have removed densely stocked stands of small trees on about 300 acres of land so far. Much of the work has gone on in the Leverich Gulch and Moser Ridge areas.

Crews have also sprayed for noxious weeds and completed about 18 miles of road work in the Gallatins, according to Lewellen. A 100-acre area near Langohr Campground was prepped for prescribed fire, but weather conditions during the drought-stricken summer were never favorable for the treatments, he said.

Officials are expecting work on the Bozeman Municipal Watershed project to continue this fall, but logging activities will increase next year, Lewellen said. Crews are expected to start cutting larger trees at that point.

People should expect to see heavy equipment and log trucks hauling timber through the Bozeman Municipal Watershed project area next year, especially around the Moser Ridge area, according to Lewellen.

“We actually have about 500 acres of work that’s under contract and ready to be started next year in 2022,” he said. “We’ll continue doing some weed-spraying and if conditions are favorable, we will certainly be moving forward with some prescribed fire activity.”

The Bozeman Municipal Watershed project calls for pile burning and understory burning, but it’s unlikely that work will occur this winter, Lewellen said.

Elsewhere in the region, work is continuing on the North Bridgers Forest Health Project, just north of Bridger Bowl.

The Forest Service announced Friday that Forest Service Trail No. 500 would be closed to all uses Mondays through Fridays as logging work happens along the trail. The closure will run from Highway 86 at the Battle Ridge Trailhead to the junction with Ross Creek/South Bracket Trailhead.

The closure begins Wednesday. The trail will be open to the public on weekends, and Battle Ridge Campground will remain open.

Officials said once logging is over, they will notify the public of when trail access will reopen.

An earlier version of this story misstated the date helicopters would start flying timber through the area. 

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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