Off-roaders trash forest
TRUCKEE – Just east of Prosser Creek Reservoir a muddy Jeep road cuts steeply east off of the main U.S. Forest Service track, crossing an area littered with prehistoric artifacts.
What 18 months ago was a faint footpath is now a wide, double-tracked swath, expanding the spiderweb pattern of off-highway vehicle trails that criss-cross national forest land outside Truckee.
This newly created road is an example of what initiated a five-step process to map all off-highway vehicle routes in 95,000 acres of national forest surrounding Truckee, and eventually prohibit use of the duplicate, environmentally damaging, or unsustainable routes, said Rick Maddalena, the eastern Tahoe National Forest recreation officer.
The Forest Service is trying to get back to a core network of recreationally and environmentally friendly trails, and the first step is prohibiting these unofficial trails from cropping up.
“The first two steps are freezing this in time,” said Maddalena.
To keep the trail and road system from its unofficial expansion, the Forest Service must identify all existing trails. And the Tahoe National Forest is asking mountain bikers and off-highway vehicle users to help out by pointing out any trails that are missing from the existing inventory.
Freezing the Forest Service trail system is a huge first step, considering that off-highway vehicle use has grown by 31 million users in less than 30 years, and many of Truckee’s outlying areas where neighborhoods abut national forest are particularly susceptible to new trail generation. But the Forest Service hopes to have that completed by early summer of next year.
After the map is complete, a temporary order will prohibit wheeled travel on any routes that are not on the map.
“What I think is important for people to do is check those maps and ask, ‘Is my favorite trail on here?'” said Maddalena.
And that includes mountain bikers, said Maddalena.
“Mountain bikes, when ridden hard on steep terrain will have similar effects (to motorcycles and dirtbikes),” he said.
The effort to tighten up the existing trail network has met with mixed responses within the mountain bike community, said Gabe McDowell, a bicycle mechanic, who has a large map of the off-highway vehicle routes.
“It looks to me that there are some (trails) that are missing, but to me it looks like they have a pretty good chunk,” said McDowell. “For the most part they seem to have done a pretty good job.”
But other mountain bikers that pass by the map have different responses, said McDowell. Some assume the Forest Service is attempting to shut down many or most of the trails they use.
But McDowell doesn’t see that happening.
“I don’t see them wanting to shut down perfectly good, well-built, singletrack trails,” said McDowell.
Maddalena said that while the very end of the process may eventually lead to some routes being eliminated, it will also likely mean that better maintained, sensible routes will be built.
“The route designation process will probably create the opportunity to create new routes,” said Maddalena. “I know that OHV users and mountain bike users will want to see a process that will lead to a trail system that actually works for people.”