N. Ariz. off-roaders fear a near-ban
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FLAGSTAFF — Coconino National Forest officials are considering closing almost all off-road trails used by motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles by September 2009.
The near-ban is part of a national proposal designed to cut back on motorized cross-country travel in national forests, and it could be modified once existing trails are mapped, U.S. Forest Service officials told riding groups.
A briefing for nearly 200 motorbike and ATV enthusiasts at a Flagstaff motorcycle shop last Wednesday brought a swift reaction from riders, who complained that closing the forest to off-road use and then selectively reopening some trails would leave them without a recreation spot.
"They see a legitimate problem, but their management is, 'Close it,' " said Keith Greenwalt, a member of the Coconino Trail Riders group.
The Trail Riders have been asking for multiuse trails that include dirt bikes and ATVs for the last 30 years to eliminate damage from cross-country travel, Greenwalt said. Scars across the land tarnish the image of responsible riders, he said.
A Flagstaff-area forest management plan is set to be released next month, and preliminary maps show none of the thousands of miles of off-road trails now used by riders. Some of the trails are illegal, some may be legal, and others were approved by Forest Service officials in the past, riders said.
But the Forest Service plans to map none of them, relying instead on riders reporting specifically where they ride and asking that those trails be reopened.
"Frankly, we just haven't had the time to dedicate to a trails system, especially new trails," said Jim Beard, the Coconino National Forest's project leader for the off-road plan. "We're just really pleading lack of energy and staff and time to pull it off."
New trails are constantly created when people drive cross-country over the same ground, Beard said. This ground disturbance is illegal, but violators are difficult to catch.
"We have no basis for enforcement. It's basically the Wild West out there as far as that goes," Beard said.http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/179679