The Dakota Skies project provides access to land in Stutsman County for maintenance and recreation

By | March 30, 2024

Mar. 30—JAMESTOWN — The proposed Dakota Skies Outdoor Recreation Area project along the Jamestown Reservoir is actually the development of two projects that complement each other, said Stutsman County Park board member Henry Steinberger.

He said the project will build a perimeter trail along the Jamestown Reservoir for maintenance and recreation. The project would be done on Stutsman County land previously owned by the Bureau of Reclamation.

“It is extremely important to develop the trail, even if it was only developed for the waterfront,” Steinberger said.

Steinberger proposed the project, which is currently in the public input phase. A public input meeting on the project is scheduled for Monday, April 1, at 6:30 p.m. in the lower level meeting room of the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center in Jamestown.

The project includes the development of water and edge paths along the reservoir. All-terrain vehicles, cyclists and hikers could use the trails along the reservoir.

The water trail would be approximately 14 miles long, located from Jamestown Dam to the fish gate, about 3 miles north of the Buchanan Bridge. Twenty to forty kilometers of edge paths could be developed.

Steinberger said the use of all-terrain vehicles is increasing. He said Stutsman County has 1,435 registered all-terrain vehicles and many more that are unregistered.

The project includes installing kayak stations, shade stations, signage, picnic tables, fire pits and restrooms along the trails. The project also includes the purchase of equipment to maintain the land.

Steinberger said the trails could include educational and interactive features such as a bird and wildflower identification center and community orchards.

Steinberger said sponsorships can be used to help pay for the items and signs.

He said the estimated cost of the project is between $1 million and $3 million. He said it is a project that can be continuously improved over time.

Two grant applications may be submitted for the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department’s Recreational Trails Program, with approval from Stutsman County. The possibility to apply for the subsidies opens on April 1 and closes on April 14.

The Recreational Trails Program funds up to 80% of eligible costs for trail projects, according to the program’s manual. Stutsman County would provide the remaining 20%.

Grant awards are limited to a minimum of $30,000 and a maximum of $250,000. The county’s share of the matching grant would be $62,500 if it receives the maximum of $250,000.

The project would be eligible for two grants through the Recreational Trails Program and could potentially receive $500,000.

Steinberger said the Dakota Skies project is similar to the one done in San Angelo, Texas, along the Twin Buttes Reservoir. The San Angelo project was created after officials there recognized an increase in off-road vehicle use. Officials have developed a transportation management plan for the project that will help guide potential future management and operation of the project with the goal of promoting off-highway vehicle use while protecting land resources.

Steinberger said less than 10% of the approximately 2,500 acres of land along the Jamestown Reservoir has been developed for public use. He said the Dakota Skies project would improve access to land for public use. He said some of the country is only accessible by water.

He said developing the land and improving access would benefit hunters, sporting groups, ranchers, hikers, cyclists, equestrians, nature watchers, power boaters, fishermen, kayak and canoe enthusiasts, off-road vehicle riders, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers and habitat conservation programs. He also said it would provide access for emergency services.

Steinberger said about 1,700 acres of the land is leased for livestock grazing. He said other uses include hunting and boat beaching.

Steinberger said the Bureau of Reclamation’s website states that the Stutsman County Park Board may manage recreation and other land resources on county land previously owned by the Reclamation using its own rules and regulations.

“The Bureau of Reclamation is directed by Congress to coordinate recreational uses at its water projects with the uses of existing and planned Federal, State, or local public recreation projects and to encourage non-Federal government agencies or other Federal agencies, to to manage recreation in Reclamation project areas,” Reclamation’s website says. “Over the years, it has been Reclamation’s goal to seek other qualified government agencies to manage recreation at its water projects.”

Steinberger said the Reclamation office in Bismarck told him the Stutsman County Park Board has a land transfer agreement for the county property previously owned by the Reclamation that it must adhere to. The land transfer agreement states that the park board is responsible for the development, management, operation and maintenance of the lands and recreational facilities at Jamestown Reservoir.

Steinberger said Reclamation told him the park board should consider the cultural resources and environmental protections where the trails could be developed.

Stutsman County Commissioner Joan Morris, a member of the park board, said she thinks the project is a “great” opportunity for the county and could also be an asset.

But Morris does have some concerns that she believes need to be addressed.

Morris said she is concerned about some trails that run through land leased to livestock grazers. She said many of the leases are long-term.

“I want to make sure that they feel comfortable, especially with the livestock that they have there, and that there are safety measures in place for them in terms of the fencing and ensuring that the gates are closed so that it really has minimal impact has on people who rent the land,” she said. “They have been excellent stewards of the land so far, so we need to make sure they feel comfortable.”

Steinberger said the project includes meetings with parties leasing the land. He said grazing partnership considerations include investigating better fencing systems and user-friendly gates, identifying areas where bales can be pressed and installing recognizable fence markings.

Morris also was concerned about the additional costs of maintaining the land and patrolling by the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office.

Steinberger said there are many options for generating revenue. He said the park board could apply for wildlife and tourism grants and land rents could be increased.

In the future, he said a restaurant similar to Hondo’s Hideaway could be established.

Morris said she would feel better if the state’s attorney says ATVs and other motorized vehicles are allowed on county land previously owned by the Reclamation. The state attorney general is reviewing and investigating an agreement between the county and the Reclamation to determine what is allowed on county-owned land.

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What: Public input meeting on possible Stutsman County Park Board recreational trails project,

When: 6:30 PM

Where: Lower level meeting room, Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center, 205 6th St. SE, Jamestown.

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