Gallatin County and the Gallatin Valley Land Trust are looking into building a trail system in a rapidly growing area outside the county’s biggest towns that could be similar to Main Street to the Mountains.

On Wednesday, the county and GVLT discussed creating a trails plan that would outline strategies for constructing trails in the rapidly growing triangle area between Belgrade, Bozeman and Four Corners.

The plan would help fill in gaps between trails outlined in Belgrade and Bozeman planning documents, county officials said. Having the plan could facilitate connections between neighborhoods, schools and commercial areas as they are built over the next few decades.

“We’ve seen some great success in other parts of the valley that when there’s a plan in place and some general guidelines about how to connect trails, this can happen,” said EJ Porth, a GVLT spokesperson. “Bozeman is the obvious example with Main Street to the Mountains. … It happened piece by piece, bit by bit, and now 30 years later, we have this great system.”

The county said a trails plan could be used to guide efforts like crafting guidelines for developers to build trails and creating a process for trail maintenance.

“Planning is always good, and after-the-fact planning is very difficult, so I think partnering with GVLT and whoever else decides to jump in is valuable,” Commissioner Don Seifert said.

To develop the trails plan, GVLT, the county planning department and the county planning board will likely collaborate with a consultant to understand existing trails and strategic ways to connect and expand them.

The county is also beginning work on a transportation plan, which would include ideas on expanding bike paths, and would likely align with the policies outlined in the trails plan. A future parks plan could fit into the trails plan by placing parks in areas connected to trails.

“Growth can bee seen as this scary, negative thing, but we get to design what we want this place to be,” Porth said. “With Main Street to the Mountains, much of it had to be done after the fact, but with this area, we can create this vision and then do something amazing in that part of the valley.”

Creation of a trails plan stems from the Triangle Plan, a document that outlines goals and policies for the area bordered by Frontage Road, 19th Avenue, Huffine Lane and Jackrabbit Lane. The plan is an effort to coordinate services and development in an area with overlapping zoning, planning and government jurisdictions.

The Triangle Plan touches on trails and details topics that would be further addressed in the trails plan. It also mentions the need to create trails, parks and transportation plans for the area.

The Planning Coordination Committee — a group of Bozeman, Belgrade and Gallatin County officials — developed the Triangle Plan over the last few years. The committee has released a draft of the plan and is accepting public comment via email to the planning department, planning@gallatin.mt.gov, until Dec. 6.

Belgrade, Bozeman and Gallatin County are each in the process of updating their individual growth plans and will incorporate the Triangle Plan into those documents in the coming months.

Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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