ATV Safety Blog

Save Your National Forest ATV Trails

July 11, 2011

How you can be involved in the process to designate motorized trails and roads on your nearest U.S. National Forest

Picture this. You ride out of the woods from your favorite trail in the National Forest and meet a law enforcement officer by your truck who writes you a ticket for being on a closed trail. You’re puzzled. There was no sign saying the trail was closed. "What’s going on?" you ask yourself.

You then discover that the Forest Service just published a new map that shows all the trails and roads you can ride. To your surprise, most of your favorite trails and roads are missing and most of the open routes are roads and trails that are boring and don’t go where you want to go. "There are all kinds of routes that we ride that aren’t on this map! Did I miss something?"

If this happens to you, the answer is yes you did miss something. You missed your opportunity to participate in the route and area designation process that will be taking place over the next couple years on every National Forest. The new Forest Service Travel Management Rule was released in November 2005 and requires every National Forest to designate a system of routes and areas where OHV use will be allowed and to publish a Motor Vehicle Use Map that will show what roads and trails are open. If trails and roads don’t show on the map, they are closed.

The rule was born out of a desire to stop the proliferation of new routes on the Forests and while it will no doubt help achieve that goal, it also opens up millions of acres and thousands of miles of trails and roads traditionally open to OHV use to potential closure. The end result in your area could be good or it could be bad, but that will depend largely on you. The rule requires public involvement and strongly suggests that the land managers collaborate with recreationists to figure out what exists on the ground and how the needs of the users can be met while designating a route system that can be sustained over the long haul. Getting involved in the process now is crucial. While the rule allows for changes each year, getting trails added back to the system after the initial designation will be time consuming and challenging to say the least.

Knowing how to get involved can be a real challenge but thankfully there is hope. Several national OHV organizations have teamed up with the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) and the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA) to provide a series of workshops across the nation to help OHV organizations and OHV recreationists understand how they can be effective in the route designation process and help the Forest Service understand what OHV recreationists want and how they can provide fun, sustainable trails.

The workshops will be conducted by the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) and were developed in cooperation with the Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA), American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), Blue Ribbon Coalition (BRC), and United Four Wheel Drive Associations. If you are interested in a scheduling a workshop in your area contact the NOHVCC at 800-348-6487 or e-mail [email protected]

In addition, the ARRA website features a Land Access Notification Database (LAND) where OHV enthusiasts and Land Managers can submit meeting and process notifications which will, in turn, allow the ARRA to notify and engage key stakeholders in and around the affected Forest. This process is designed to maximize awareness of local issues and to target appropriate responses, ensuring that the local Forest is not negatively impacted by the route designation rule. To find the LAND web page go to the ARRA home page and look on the left menu for the LAND button.

Inventorying existing trails and submitting them to the Forest Service for consideration as routes to be included in the final plan can further involve riders. The National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council has collaborated with the Colorado OHV Coalition and the US Forest Service to produce a DVD that explains how to use global positioning systems (GPS) to inventory trails provide the information to the Forest Service in a format that can be included in the official inventory. The DVD offers a step-by-step guide to working with the Forest Service, inventorying trails and turning that information in to local Forest managers.

"It’s critical that off-highway vehicle recreationists are involved in letting the Forest Service know where they ride," says Russ Ehnes, NOHVCC Executive Director, "because if they ride on a trail, and that trail doesn’t make it into the Forest Service inventory, the trail will be closed."

The DVD is available to anyone who needs to map trails or roads for any land-use process. To get a DVD, contact NOHVCC at 800-348-6487, or e-mail: [email protected]

For more detailed information on the U.S. Forest Service Travel Management Rule and how you can get involved, go to this page on the NOHVCC web site or click on the "Forest Service OHV Route Designation Workshops and Database" link at the top of their home page

You can also go directly to the Forest Service site, where you can find further details, plus the scheduled completion dates for all Forests.