The proposal for a paved trail that would ultimately run from Sisters to Black Butte Ranch has been broken into phases to increase the chances of at least a portion of it getting funded.
Kirk Flannigan, Sisters Ranger District recreation team leader, told The Nugget that Phase I of the project would include a paved path from Sisters to Tollgate and from Crossroads to Sisters High School. Phase II would involve extending the path from Tollgate to Black Butte Ranch, and Phase III would involve the paving of the Sisters-BBR portion of the trail.
(While the original concept for the trail contemplated an extension to Camp Sherman, that is no longer part of the plan.)
Three grants have been applied for; only one is currently active.
The Multimodal Transportation Program Project Application grant request made to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is for $2.8 million for the entire project.
"What that one is, is the full-meal-deal," Flannigan told The Nugget.
The grant request represents a significantly higher number than the approximately $1 million figure that has commonly been discussed as the cost of the Sisters-BBR trail. That number appears to be an artifact of initial thumbnail estimates by trail advocates that placed costs at about $100,000 per mile.
The $2.8 million application reflects all of the work for the whole project, Flannigan explained, including bridging or placing culverts in waterways and a raised puncheon trailbed near the edge of Black Butte Ranch.
Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) chairman Gary Guttormsen told The Nugget that the numbers in the grant request were put together by the Forest Service.
"All of this work was done by the Forest Service engineers," he said.
The only part of the project currently under funding consideration is Phase I. That portion of the project is estimated at $801,000. The applicants - the Forest Service and STA - are seeking $712,000 through the 2015-2018 STIP funding process. STIP stands for Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.
"We've got that down," Guttormsen said. "We scaled it back to just Phase I."
Reducing the scope of the grant request was necessary to keep the project from falling off the priority list, Guttormsen told The Nugget.
Guttormsen said that ODOT asked all the grant applicants if they could scale their projects.
"We said yes we could," Guttormsen said.
The project still has planning hurdles to cross. STA funded an environmental assessment (EA), which is still underway at the Forest Service.
"The EA is not complete," Flannigan said. "However, with the grant cycle, this was an opportunity to get it out there."
The Tollgate-to-BBR portion of the project has drawn its share of controversy. Skeptics - including some residents of Tollgate concerned about the visual impact on their property - have criticized the cost, the impact on the forest, and the maintenance requirements of the proposed path.
Proponents on the other hand argue that a paved path offers access to the forest for people who might otherwise find it difficult to get out into the woods for recreation. They also tout the economic benefits brought to towns by such amenities.
As far as maintenance concerns go, Guttormsen has noted that STA maintains an extensive network of trails, including the Peterson Ridge Trail, which has become a destination for mountain bikers across the region.