Forest Service works to make a better system
The off-highway vehicle can be a source of great fun and recreation for many Utah residents, but the OHV can also be a problem when users fail to stay on the trail.
US Forest Service employees have become creative in dealing with OHV problems. They are trying to be pro-active and stop problems and concerns before they start.
They are working on specific areas of the forest to control and direct OHV travel. They have made a series of trails, beginner and advanced adjacent to campgrounds in the Lake area near Cleveland Reservoir. From there, work will move to the areas surrounding Miller's Flat.
Forest service personnel keep maps and information in their vehicles to hand out to campers and those using ATVs in the area.
Recently forest service personnel, Ann King, Rosann Fillmore, Bill Broadbear and the regional supervisor Pam Brown met on the forest for a tour. Members of the press and Wade Allinson from the Sage Riders motorcycle club also attended. Their intent is to get information out to the riding public on the trails that are available and the work that is being done to the trail system as a whole. The forest service is always looking for volunteer groups that are willing to do projects on the forest. They said they have had much volunteer service from the Emery and Carbon county sides of the mountain and less volunteers from the Sanpete area. They believe that education is the key. Volunteers are key to the projects on the forest. These people who volunteer don't like the abuse any better than forest service personnel. They want people to stay on the trails systems. The lands are in better shape now because of the trails.
Brown said, "We want to teach people how to use the forest responsibly. Public lands are a gift and a responsibility. We want to keep our forest in a productive state so our children and grandchildren can enjoy the forest as we have. We want to keep the forest healthy for years to come. We have challenges, but we hope to build on the success we have had in the past. We hear all the time from people that we want to keep people out, but that isn't true. We have worked hard to provide a good system of trails."
Allinson agreed with that saying the Manti-LaSal has one of the best ATV trail systems in the state. He mentioned Clark Collins who rides all over and Collins said we have a wonderful system here. There is plenty of opportunity here to recreate.
King said our area is one of the most heavily used in the state. "The use we get is just phenomenal."
The forest service expressed their appreciation to the volunteer groups, mostly ATV and motorcycle clubs that have helped maintain trails.
The Lake area last year saw 4,000 riders using the system. The trails are designed for 50 inches or less. Many of the trails in the Lake area were designed with the larger ATVs in mind. The area receives a lot of use from the Wasatch Front area and many of those users aren't involved with giving back to the area. A lot of the Salt Lake clubs use the 12 Mile Canyon area on the Sanpete side. Approximately 60 percent of the use in the Lake area is from the Wasatch Front and Provo area.
Brown said a balance needs to be maintained for those who seek the forest for quiet and solitude and those who wish to recreate with ATVs. There are a variety of uses that need to be managed for in the local area. "It is a challenge to provide for the many different interests and sometimes there is conflict. These areas up here are critical watershed for the communities in the valley. They depend on this water," said Brown.
A great effort has been put forth to keep people out of the wetlands. Wetlands are crucial to the health of the forest. Wildlife depends on wet lands. Large fallen trees have been placed to block entrances to wetlands called log and blocks. These types of barriers have met with more success than fenced areas. Trails have been created around the wetlands where possible. Wetlands around Miller's Flat have sustained a lot of damage.
A series of learner loops have been constructed for children to learn to ride. Parents are instructed to always make sure these young riders wear helmets. It is the law.
It's a common practice for people to camp and then send their children out to ride. These learner loops give children a place to ride safely.
The trails are fun and present a challenge.
The Seely area is now being studied for future trail developments surrounding camping areas. Projects on the forest will include timber harvest, dispersed camping site and trail development and habitat improvements. Work will be done to design a trail system. There are some well used worn out areas that will be allowed to rest and revegetate.
ATV users aren't the only ones who abuse the trails. Many full-sized 4-wheel drive vehicles will mud bog in wetlands and destroy them. Penalties are becoming stiffer for those who abuse. They will have to pay a federal fine and go to federal court. They will be responsible for restitution for whatever they tear up.
The forest service personnel are also continuing education programs for the sixth grade classrooms in the area. They will help the students learn it's not OK to just ride wherever they please.
A new map is also on its way which will have names of trails and place names instead of just forest road numbers like the current motor vehicle use map.
In the Lake area 98 percent of the trails are signed which is helpful to users, but it is still the users responsibility to know if the trail they are using is an open forest service trail and not a user created trail. Violators will be ticketed if they are off trail. The new map will be out the middle of November.
Some user created trails just don't make sense and are out of place. Some out of compliance riders will just head straight up a hill and scar the hillside.
Another project in the works is defining dispersed campsites with roads that are farther than 150 feet off the main road. These roads to dispersed campsites have not been on the forest service system and they need to be defined because people who use them are actually in violation of the 150 foot rule. The forest service will determine if the sites are legitimate and usable spurs so people will be legal.
On the Manti there are 950 miles of trail. This includes 37 miles of single-track, 180 miles of ATV trails and non-motorized trails. There are about 500 miles of user created motorized trails. The forest service is able to maintain twice as many miles of trail because of the huge volunteer efforts by the local off-road clubs. During 2009, 200 miles of user created trails have been closed.
Brown encourages all riders to use the forest and stay on the trails, obey the rules and encourage others to do the same.
Healthy forests can be enjoyed by everyone.