CASPER, Wyo. The Bureau of Land Management is proposing a plan to handle the growing number of people retracing the Mormon Pioneer Handcart Trail.
The BLM plan was prompted by a special recreation application from the Church to allow 7,500 handcart trekkers on public lands north of the Sweetwater River, according to the Associated Press.
For years, the BLM has permitted growing numbers of Latter-day Saints to re-enact parts of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies' experience, said Lloyd Larsen, president of the Riverton Wyoming Stake.
Although members began taking handcart treks along the trail in the 1980s, interest increased in 1996 in the year leading up to the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the Mormon Pioneer Historic Trail.
In 1999, according to BLM officials, less than 1,000 people participated in LDS-sponsored handcart treks, between June 10 and Aug. 15. By last summer, the number had grown to more than 12,000.
With the Wyoming Game and Fish Department voicing concerns about trek impact on wildlife, the BLM realized that this kind of growth just wasn't sustainable, said Tom Long, an outdoor recreation planner at the BLM's Lander field office.
The BLM is taking comments through the end of February on its proposed plan for handling handcart treks. After the initial public comment, the Lander field office will prepare an environmental assessment on the proposed plan.