East Mink Creek Corridor Project
By Crystal Young
July 12, 2023
For weeks after the Caribou-Targhee National Forest announced they would be repaving the trail at Cherry Springs Nature Area on the Westside Ranger District near Pocatello, Idaho, Charlene Kynaston would get on her bike, ride down to the trail head, and pepper the construction crew with questions about how much the trail through the area was going to be widened.
Kynaston worked at Portneuf Medical Center and was an avid outdoorswoman who spent countless hours riding, running, snowshoeing, backpacking, and cross country skiing the trails on the district at every opportunity.
“I've been up and down West Fork so many times on a mountain bike, hiking, or running that I can visualize that whole trail,” Kynaston said. “My foot placement, every rock, every little trough, every ravine, getting water at the spring, get into the gate. I just knew I wanted to be outside in some capacity.”
Since a car accident in 2020 paralyzed her from the chest down, Kynaston reveled in those memories, but had to sell all of the cherished sports equipment she could no longer use. A spate of volunteers and donors helped her purchase a recumbent bike that was customized for her needs, enabling her to pedal with her hands. It brought her hope that she would be able to experience the outdoors in a new way. But she met with some difficulty keeping up with her love of the outdoors, partly because her bike couldn’t overcome the worn trails and bridges in the forested areas near Pocatello.
According to Kim Obele, Westside District Ranger, one of the main goals of the $1 million request for Great American Outdoor Act funds to upgrade the East Mink Creek Corridor was to complete deferred maintenance on several recreation stops along the five miles between the Kinney Creek Trailhead and the Scout Mountain Campground, which included the Cherry Springs trail work. Another goal was to ensure as many sites as possible in the project corridor would follow Forest Service accessibility standards and be accessible to persons with disabilities.
“We focused on specific modifications that would make accessibility easier, for example, this bridge that I'm standing on, it was very difficult to get onto this bridge from the paved trail,” Obele said. “There were some simple modifications that made a really big difference, like taking off the wear boards from the decking so that it was just a smoother surface for people with wheelchairs or any kind of mobility device.”
As soon as the trail was complete, Kynaston tried it out and realized she was able to fit her bike and her dog on the trail with her as she rode. Kynaston let the district know that with the work done along the corridor, they’d really listened to the needs of people like her while maintaining recreation opportunities for people with other recreation interests.
“That's my mental health. That's what keeps my soul filled. Being able to be out and exercising, being able to walk my dog,” she said. “[Having] the independence and being able to leave my house and come down and go through Cherry Springs all on my own.”
The project thrived with the help of local government partners like Bannock County Department of Public Works that chipped and sealed the road to the top of the mountain, installed new signs, and replaced and repainted cattle guards. It included state partners like the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation that provided grants to help replace three bridges on the East Mink Creek Trail and update all the tables and fire rings at the Scout Mountain Campground to be compliant with the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards. Finally, district staff recognized the importance of volunteers like the more than 40 people who helped remove thousands of pounds of trash from the Lead Draw Trail and trailhead.
“We tried to put in something for everyone and each area was assigned a niche,” said Sheila Larsen, Westside Ranger District recreation staff. “It just continues to keep providing enhanced recreational opportunity for multiple use. I love this project and what it means for our community.”
The Kinney Creek Trail is a nonmotorized trail, Lead Draw is a single-track trail and part of the Tour of Idaho, Cherry Springs has a non-motorized paved trail system that is very community centric, the East Mink Creek Trail is a motorized trail that leads to the top of Scout Mountain and to the district’s larger motorized trail system. The plan expanded the parking area and a second gate on Scout Mountain Road that increased access for winter recreation programs where the district has seen increased use.
Larsen says depending on funding, the next part of the project the community will see is changes at the Cherry Springs Nature Area amphitheater where the district plans to host community focused forest programs in partnership with the Idaho Master Naturalists. With replaced seating, refurbished ramps to access the stage, metal fencing in place of the existing wooden fence, and vegetation surrounding the area cleaned up, the area will once again be available for use by school groups, community events, and wedding events.