Sourdough Trail, Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project

Skate skiers use Sourdough Trail on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.

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Access to the Sourdough Creek Trailhead is set to close for about three weeks in the fall while helicopters carry logs across city land south of Bozeman, officials announced at a virtual open house on Thursday.

The helicopter work is part of an approximately 330-acre forest thinning project on city land called the Sourdough Fuels Reduction Project. The area along the Sourdough Creek Trail where logging will occur is popular among hikers, bicyclists and others.

During a critical phase of the timber project, helicopters will fly cut logs from treatment units over the Sourdough Creek Trail to a landing and decking area, said project manager Brian Heaston at Thursday’s open house.

“It’s a hazardous activity, and we need the helicopter operator to be able to work in this area without the public in there as well,” he said.

To determine limits on public access during the critical phase, city officials released a public survey in March. People were given three options for area closures — partial access to the trailhead for four weeks, limited public access for five weeks or no access for three weeks.

The majority of voters preferred the no-access option, meaning the city will restrict access to the Sourdough Creek Trailhead fully for three weeks in the fall, officials announced on Thursday.

Around 60% of the survey participants picked the no-access option. Another 30% chose the partial access option. Approximately 10% chose the limited access option.

The city-led Sourdough Fuels Reduction Project accompanies the larger Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project led by the Forest Service. That project involves logging, thinning and prescribed burning on approximately 4,700 acres of national forest between the Hyalite and Bozeman Creek drainages.

Officials with the city of Bozeman and the Custer Gallatin National Forest worry that a large wildfire on the Gallatin front could contaminate the Bozeman’s drinking water, threaten homes and put firefighters at risk. Around 80% of Bozeman’s drinking water comes from the Sourdough and Hyalite watersheds.

“There hasn’t been natural fire in most of this area in quite a long time, so there’s a lot of undergrowth,” said Mitch Reister, director of public works for the city.

Lack of spacing between trees can cause a fire to go from the ground into the canopy. This can create “heat and damage that can actually be pretty catastrophic as the Bridger fire was last year,” Reister said.

Work on the city’s project is set to begin this summer and continue through 2022. Ground-based treatments will occur this summer, followed by helicopter treatments in the fall. Hand crew treatments should begin in the summer or fall of 2022, according to the city.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest plans to host a Facebook Live session on May 6 to discuss its plans for carrying out the Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project.

The session is an opportunity to discuss the details of various pieces of the project, including spring work in Leverich Gulch and plans for prescribed fire, said Corey Lewellen, Bozeman District Ranger for the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

According to the Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project website, mechanical logging treatments in the Moser Ridge area and non-mechanical treatments in the Leverich Gulch area could begin this summer. Various project treatments may continue from 2022 to 2025.

“There’s a lot of various different activities associated with both the Forest Service and the city’s implementation, and we want to continue to be very transparent and share as much information as we can when we can,” Lewellen said.

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

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