by Timothy Finger, Outdoor Recreation Planner
Billings Field Office, Bureau of Land Management
Shepherd Ah-Nei Recreation Area
Shepherd Ah Nei Recreation Area is comprised of 4,680 acres, is located about 30 miles northeast of Billings, and is an important outdoor recreation resource in the planning area. The entire area is closed to shooting except during hunting seasons established by Fish Wildlife & Parks. Visitor opportunities include horseback riding, birding, hunting, and OHV riding. For management purposes, the recreation area has been separated into three smaller management areas. Each area provides unique recreation opportunities.
Area 1 (976 acres) was closed to full sized vehicles in 1985, and current use includes ATVs, motorcycles, mountain biking, hunting in season, and hiking. An additional 640 acres was acquired in 1994 to expand the area. In 2005, the Billings Field Office completed a travel management plan for the area, and 50 miles of trail were designated “open.” Improvements include a graveled parking lot, handicapped accessible vault toilet, kiosk, fee station, and unloading ramps. Motorized users are required to purchase a permit to use the area, and all fee receipts are used for site administration and maintenance to enhance visitor experience. The objective of area management is to continue to provide opportunities for non-competitive motorized or mechanized trail riding for all ability levels local to the most populous urban area in Montana.
This area meets the criteria for unique value as the only lands within the Billings Field Office managed to provide specifically designated ATV trails. It meets the importance criteria for its close proximity the Montana’s most populous urban area. (RMZ 1) has a developed parking area and OHV trailhead and provides access to over 50 miles of designated OHV trails. BLM is in the process of enhancing the site by installing new shade structures and picnic tables and rebuilding the parking lot as well as eliminating hazard trees along the trail system as well as acquiring a private land in-holding for expansion of the riding opportunities.
South Hills OHV Area
The South Hills area is comprised of 1,357 acres and is located two miles south of Billings and east of Blue Creek Road on the upper level of a large bentonite deposit. Approximately 2,500 recreationists visit the site annually. South Hills is the only area in the Billings Field Office managed as “open,” where motorized cross country travel is allowed. The riding area is open for motorcycle use only.
Access to the South Hills riding area is through a small parking area bordered on the west by Old Blue Creek Road and on the north by private land. Riverfront Park, an Environmental Education Conservatory, and developing residential areas are either adjacent to or one quarter mile from the parking lot. A site sign and barriers are the only improvements on site. The parking lot and entrance to the riding area is in need of engineering and reconstruction to address erosion, user safety, and accessibility. BLM is in the process of repairing the access conditions.
The riding area is adjacent to two large subdivisions. Conflicts exist between recreationists and residents and result from competing recreational expectations. The 1984 Resource Management Plan (BLM 1984) decision closed a 70 acre portion of the area to provide a noise buffer to the adjacent residential area and closed 237 acres to all motorized use. The decision also closed the remaining area to all four wheeled vehicles, including ATVs. More information about the area will appear in future issues of the News.