Ouachita National Forest Makes Travel Management Decision
January 4, 2010
Submitted by: Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forest Service
Ouachita National Forest
managers have announced that a decision regarding the travel management project
at least 4 years in the making has been made. The forest wide project, which covers public lands managed
by the Forest Service in Arkansas and Oklahoma, will be ready for
implementation in spring 2010.
In 2005, the Forest Service
issued a Travel Management Rule which called for each of America’s 155 National Forests to designate a
travel system for motorized vehicles, including Off Highway Vehicles
The rule was established to
limit harmful environmental impacts associated with unregulated OHV use on
National Forest land.
For the Ouachita National
Forest, the biggest change is that most cross country travel, either on user
created trails or just riding through
the forest on an OHV, will be eliminated.
According to Forest Supervisor Norm Wagoner, cross country travel is a
contributor to natural resource damage on the Forest. “Most OHV operators ride legally and sensibly and have been
responsible in their use of the National Forest,” he said. “But in order for the
Forest to balance the desires
of off-highway riders with the responsibility to maintain a healthy and
sustainable forest, it required a project like this that took a hard look at
the problems and then designated routes that allow access, protect against
damage and result in a sustainable travel system.”
Public input was important in
shaping the final project. For
instance, not included in the initial proposal, but part of the new decision,
is an option for large game hunters to retrieve legally downed game within game
retrieval corridors which cover up to ½ mile on either side of some designated
routes. A relatively high
percentage of the forest is within the ½ mile game retrieval corridors.
Also included in the decision are roads that will be
seasonally opened during October, November and December when the majority of
big game hunts occur in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Another instance of public input
shaping the project includes the designation of some spur roads to access
dispersed campsites across the forest.
These sites have historical significance for many campers that return to
the same remote spot in the woods with family and friends year after year. By identifying spur roads, some of the
dispersed campsites can be
directly accessed by a motor vehicle.
Others are within a short walk from a designated route. Off-highway
vehicle operators will see different opportunities at the popular Wolf-Pen Gap
Trail system near Mena, AR. The 31
miles of loop trails will be designated as open routes on weekends and holidays
between May 15th and September 15th.
The change is due to adverse
effects on water quality through sedimentation linked in part to current OHV
use in the area. Wagoner said the new designation will improve water quality
and reduce natural resource damage, but will still allow riders to enjoy the
trail system and the natural resources that attracted so many people to the
forest in the first place.
With designated routes in
place, officials say it will be up to the operators to ensure they are riding
legally. When implemented in the
spring, routes will easily be identified by obtaining a Motor Vehicle Use Map
(MVUM) from the local Ranger District office. The map will be the legal document that spells out where the
route is, what type of motorized vehicle use is appropriate, and when it is
The travel management project
will not govern use on state highways or county roads in any way. The project designates
existing Forest Service system routes and trails that follow safety and
protection guidelines. This was done on a Forest-wide scale
with public involvement. The new
route system will be implemented beginning in early spring 2010 with
approximately 3,100 miles of existing forest system roads and trails available
for various types of motorized use.
Forest officials say, however, that options for additional or different
routes still exist. Each local
Ranger District conducts a variety of environmental reviews and analysis as
part of day to day business each year.
Some of these analyses will
examine the feasibility and effects of adding or modifying route designations.
“The public will have an important role to play in future route designations,”
said Wagoner. “I encourage people
to continue to work with the district office where they enjoy riding to share
suggestions for potential trails or volunteer their group to help the Forest
develop and maintain new designated routes.”
Maps will be available at
Forest Service offices in Arkansas and Oklahoma when the plan is implemented in
early spring. For more
information on the Travel Management Project, or to view small maps online, log
on to www.aokforests.com or call the Ranger District office nearest you.