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Environmental Impact Review shows plans to expand Lee Canyon could move forward

LAS VEGAS - Plans to expand Lee Canyon appear to be moving forward.  The U.S  Forest Service recently released an environmental impact review.

The document analyzes the potential impacts on the forest and the wildlife that lives there.

Based on the findings of the review, the U.S. Forest Service is authorizing the expansion, but the decision isn't final.  The report that was released was just a draft of the 18-month environmental impact study.

"We're the Forest Service," said Bill Dunkelberger, U.S. Forest Service supervisor at Humboldt National Forest.  "We are in charge with allowing for enjoyment and use of the forest, but at the same time you know, protecting it."

Under the proposed plans, Lee Canyon would double in size and be open year round.  The expansion includes mountain biking and hiking trails, a zip line, a mountain coaster, and additional lifts and ski runs.

The U.S. Forest Service analysis shows the project won't cause major destruction on the canyon.  But before anything is done, there are many steps ahead, including public input.

"We're actually not looking at you know, constructing what you think of as a typical wide run; it's actually more selective tree cutting," Dunkelberger said.

So what about endangered species?

The U.S. Forest Service believes the project will benefit, not harm, the Blue Butterfly, an endangered species living in the area.

"The plants that butterflies are dependent on depends on disturbing, a disturbance in nature," said Dunkelberger.

However, the organization, Center for Biological Diversity, disagrees saying, "The butterfly needs undisturbed slopes of wildflowers and forbs for nectar and for laying eggs. Introducing thousands of mountain bikers to its fragile habitat could cause its demise."

The U.S. Forest Service is taking public comment on the project for the next 45 days and will release a final decision as early as December 2018.

If all goes as planned, construction can begin by next summer.

Visitors of Lee Canyon are thrilled.

"I think a new (bike) trail would be awesome," said Lexi Cervantes.

The project can take more than a decade to complete at a cost of $35 million.

For more information on the study and public input go here.


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