Crazy Mountains

The Crazy Mountains are shown in this September 2016 file photo.

Part one of the reroute of a disputed trail in the Crazy Mountains north of Livingston is done.

The U.S. Forest Service announced in a news release that the Porcupine Ibex Trail will be open to hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers on Friday, more than a year and a half after it was first proposed. The 2.7 miles of new trail will connect the Porcupine Cabin Trailhead to the North Fork Elk Creek Trail.

The reroute replaces part of the historic Porcupine Lowline Trail, a disputed trail that crosses a complicated patchwork of private and public land. The Forest Service will no longer assert any claim to the original path and will remove it from future maps.

In the release, Custer Gallatin Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson said the Forest Service is glad to have found a common solution to the dispute.

“Providing long-term secured access into this portion of the Crazy Mountains is a significant accomplishment and benefit to the public,” Erickson said.

The completed 2.7-mile reroute is the first step in the project. Construction on another 6.4 miles of the trail will likely start next summer, said Forest Service spokesperson Marna Daley.

Erica Lighthiser with the Park County Environmental Council said the reroute fix isn’t perfect or a one-size-fits-all solution for land disputes, but that she’s happy with the outcome.

“I think the reroute will resolve a lot of this decades-old issue. I’m really excited to see the project come to fruition,” Lighthiser said.

Although the Ibex trail is seen as a compromise between conservation groups who advocated for preserving the old trail and the landowners who believe it was illegal, there has been pushback. The reroute was proposed in 2018 after a landowner had been blocking the trail for years, and some see the deal as an example of the Forest Service caving to a landowner. Some also argue that the Forest Service skirted the law by not conducting a full environmental assessment for the project after it was proposed.

Four conservation groups unsuccessfully tried to block construction of the trail as part of an ongoing lawsuit over public access to four trails in the Crazies. In the lawsuit, Enhancing Montana’s Wildlife Habitat, Friends of the Crazy Mountains, Skyline Sportsmen and the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers argue the Forest Service hasn’t done enough to preserve public access to the four trails, which cross private land and lack written easements.

The Porcupine Lowline Trail is one of the four trails. The groups asked for an injunction against the reroute, but the judge denied that request, ruling that the Forest Service followed the law in proposing the reroute.

Staff writer Michael Wright contributed reporting.

Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2607. Follow her on Twitter @shay_ragar.

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