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Custer Gallatin Opens Controversial Trail, Proposes Land Exchange

A map showing the proposed land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and private landowners.
U.S. Forest Service
A map showing the proposed land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and private landowners.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest will open part of a controversial trail Friday in the Crazy Mountains. The range northeast of Livingston is also part of the agency’s recent proposal for a land swap.

The U.S. Forest Service announced this week the newly constructed Porcupine Ibex Trail will be open to hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers on Friday. The nearly three-mile section is part of a reroute of the historic Porcupine Lowline Trail, which crossed public and private land.

The trail is one of four in an ongoing lawsuit in which four conservation and outdoor recreation groups allege the Forest Service did not conduct a full environmental assessment.

While most of the Crazy Mountain Range is part of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, 32,000 acres are privately owned. The checkerboard of public and private land has led to tension over access and trespassing. The Forest Service has been trying to ease that by buying or exchanging land.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest recently proposed trading 3,200 acres of National Forest land for about 3,800 acres of private land.

If this land swap goes through, land owned by Crazy Mountain Ranch, Rock Creek Ranch and Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch would become public land. Custer Gallatin would gain Rock and Smeller Lakes, which provide habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The exchange would also secure a permanent trail easement and relocate large portions of the Cottonwood Lowline Trail and secure several permanent road easements to provide public access to the Rock Creek North trailhead and administrative access for emergencies and specific projects.

The environmental assessment for the proposed land-swap is available online and at the Custer Gallatin National Forest office in Bozeman.

The Service is hosting an open house to discuss the proposal and answer questions October 23 from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. at the City County Building Community Room in Livingston.

Comments can be submitted online, via mail, fax or in person. They must be received by November 18th.