By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – More than 50 people gathered at the junction of Ousel Falls Trail and Ralph’s Pass on June 15 to celebrate the official opening of Big Sky’s newest trail, a 2.7-mile hiking and mountain biking pathway that connects Ousel Falls and Uplands trails.
Ralph’s Pass travels almost exclusively through private land as it winds through thick forest and grassy meadows. It was funded by Big Sky Resort Area District resort tax appropriations to the Big Sky Community Organization, a grant from Montana’s Recreation Trails Program and an anonymous family foundation.
Following a story about the trail’s namesake, BSRAD resort tax board member Heather Budd and the state’s trails administrator Beth Shumate served as the official ribbon cutters.
Shumate had just finished biking the length of the trail and described it as “awesome—one of the best mountain bike rides I think I’ve had.”
Before funding was secured and Terraflow Trail Systems put tool to trail, BSCO worked with 10 private landowners on easements through their property to allow for public access. Those easements were the product of the Simkins family’s desire for a robust trail system in Big Sky, according to BSCO Executive Director Ciara Wolfe.
“This trail has been a vision for our community for the past decade,” Wolfe said. “Even though it’s 2.7 miles in length, it adds miles and miles to our trail system.”
“In hindsight, we didn’t make a big deal of [having those easements] at the time because nothing was built [yet],” said Jessie Wiese, the former executive director of Big Sky Community Organization. “It’s a really cool to see it come into fruition.”
The support of the 10 landowners who currently own the land the trail passes through was key to the project’s success. Former BSCO project manager Emily O’Connor worked with them to identify good locations for the trail to maintain landowner privacy and minimize impact to wildlife and the environment.
“I think [Big Sky is] a community that really supports trails and sees the bigger picture and the benefits—the economic, social and health benefits,” O’Connor said in a phone interview from her home in the Boston area. “You can’t really put a price on that.”