Keeping Our Trails Open

Many folks who wheel on public land (US Forest Service, BLM, State SVRAs, etc.) don’t realize what happens behind the scenes to keep these trails open for our enjoyment.

There is constant pressure from anti-access groups who want to remove motorized trails from our public lands. These groups want to restrict access and create more Wilderness areas.  They have money and specialized lawyers.  And, we all pay to defend against these lawsuits.

For example:

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 27, 2012 – The Center for Biological Diversity today sent a letter to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Doc Hastings, claiming their organization had only received $553,000 in taxpayer funds resulting from Endangered Species Act (ESA) related attorney fees and court cases. This claim conflicts with data obtained from the Department of Justice (DOJ), which shows over $2 million in taxpayer dollars have been paid out to the Center for Biological Diversity and their attorneys for cases open between 2009-2012.

Our public land managers have to balance their duty to protect the land from damage with accommodating the people who want to use the land for recreation.

The agencies who manage our public trails operate with less and less money each year. Yet the trails need regular maintenance.  This is where volunteers can step in.

While it’s fun to go wheeling, it can feel good to help keep the trails open. And, you never know who you might meet…

Local 4WD Clubs often adopt a trail system and perform clean ups, replace signs that have been broken, clean out silt fences, or improve parking areas. Often these Clubs belong to the Tread Lightly! organization that works to educate off road drivers on how to protect the trails from damage and closure. They also support efforts to repair damaged areas.

Drive Offroad (through our parent company, Omix-ADA) is a Platinum level partner with Tread Lightly!

Please consider doing your part to keep our trails open.

Here is a challenge to keeping local OHV trails open:

We have lost a number of OHV trail systems here in Georgia (home of Drive Offroad). We only have a few trail systems left and they are small.  Most have less than 10 miles of trail. We only have one trail system left that allows Jeeps.

In the mountains of north Georgia there are a number of small OHV trail systems for ATVs and motorcycles. One of them is called Locust Stake and it has 9 miles of trails.

This area was created in the mid-1980s when the US Forest Service decided to provide riding areas for OHV machines (ATVs and dirt motorcycles). Each Ranger District in the Chattahoochee National Forest set aside some acreage and then ignored it.  No trails were designated, little if any signage was put up, typically there was no law enforcement, and people just rode wherever they wanted.

In the early-1990s the Forest Service decided to designate trails to reduce the damage from the user-created trails.  The Rangers simply went out and handpicked some of the existing trails.  There was no plan or strategy.  No engineering or environmental studies were done.  Some signs were put up and some maps were created.  The internet was becoming more widely used, but the Forest Service was slow to adopt online maps and OHV trails were a low priority.

In the mid-1990s an anti-access group called Georgia ForestWatch became involved and sued the US Forest Service over the environmental damage caused by some of these unmanaged trail systems. In some cases, the District Rangers did not even know where the designated trails were.

One such trail system was called Anderson Creek. Here is a brief article published by the Georgia ForestWatch.

Now, the Forest Service has discovered trail damage at Locust Stake by watching YouTube videos taken by ATV riders. By posting photos and videos online, the damage was exposed to the public.

All parties have begun meeting face to face and a professional trail assessment has been done.  Only time will tell whether this trail system can be saved and repaired.

My advice is that if you have local trails on public land, get involved with the agency that manages them. If you see damage, try to get it fixed before the situation comes down to lawsuits and trail closure.

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