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Old March 21st, 2008, 04:24 PM   #3
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MORE AP HEADLINES »Maps show areas open to motorized traffic for National Forests
by Howard Meyerson | The Grand Rapids Press
Friday March 21, 2008, 9:38 AM
If you plan to drive your car, truck, motorcycle or quad in the Ottawa, Hiawatha or Huron National Forests this summer, be sure to stop at a forest office and pick up their new motor vehicle use maps.

The maps show which roads, trails and areas are open to motorized traffic. Forest officials say any other two-tracks are closed.

"It's taken us a year and half to inventory the roads and pull them together," said Gordon Haase, the recreation planner for the Huron Shores ranger district of the Huron National Forest.

"Motorized vehicles have always been restricted here to open roads. The map is just a defining document that shows what is open."

CONTACT
Huron-Manistee National Forest
• Phone: (800) 821-6263
• Web: www.fs.fed.us/r9/hmnf/

Ottawa National Forest
• Phone: (906) 932 - 1330
• Web: www.fs.fed.us/r9/ottawa/

Hiawatha National Forest
• Phone: (906) 786-4062
• Web: www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/hiawatha/


The Huron National Forest map was just released this month. It is one of 28 forests around the country, so far, that have completed the motorized travel maps. The Manistee National Forest will release one in 2009.

The maps are the product of a 2006 U.S. Forest Service rule that called for every federal forest in nation to produce one by 2010. The rule was approved by then forest service, chief Dale Bosworth.

A problem in some places
He spoke of unmanaged motorized recreation as one of several major threats to the country's national forests. He wanted to halt the ever-expanding web of two-tracks and trails along with associated environmental damage.

"It is a widespread problem on the Huron and Manistee Forests," said Ken Arborgast, the public affairs officer for both in Cadillac.

"There are places where wetlands have been impacted by guys who go mudbogging and rehabilitated areas that people went and destroyed. We have hills with eight to 12 foot gullies cut into them.

"We hope the map will help by showing people where they can go."

What will not show up are familiar user routes that were never actually open. Take, for instance, a road cut for a timber sale 14 years ago that was never closed, but over time became an established recreational thoroughfare.

"There are a lot who support that the woods should not be an open free-for-all for motorized users," said Janel Crooks for the Hiawatha National Forest in the eastern Upper Peninsula. "But others are frustrated because they have been going to their particular camp for 30 years and are now learning that the road to camp is not opened to motorized use.

That's the fear for Louis Shuler. He is the executive director for the Cycle Conservation Corps. That scenario scares the daylights out of his members. He is not worried that any designated ORV routes were inadvertently closed.

"Many of our members are hunters and fishers," he said. "They want continued access to the national forests."

Pat Brower, the land committee chair for the Great Lakes Four Wheel Drive Association, said, "two-tracks are becoming an endangered species."

Brower's group is for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. Two-tracking is a favored pastime. He says the new maps will make for more confident decisions in the woods. But he thinks two-track opportunities are diminishing in federal forests.

"They are getting caught in the pinch between urban sprawl and semi-primitive, non-motorized areas," Brower said.

Semi-primitive non-motorized areas are those established to provide quiet zones for other kinds of recreation and for wildlife. Federal forest managers are expected to balance the multiple uses called for on the forest.

"If you look at the map you will see just how roaded our forest is," said Haase. "One of the main problems we have is disruption in the forest.

"We have hundreds of road miles and very limited quiet spaces. The biologists are telling us we need to provide more quiet areas for animals."

Brower said his members have taken to using their own GPS units to map open roads in the Manistee National Forest. They fear forest staffers may try to shut riders out of roads that are currently open.

"We trust them, but not the data they work with," Brower said. "We have historically found gaps and errors."

One certainty is that national forest staffers have a big job ahead and, perhaps, an even bigger enforcement headache. It is one thing to put a route on a map, another to make sure that the entire route is clearly marked on the ground.

There are places today were several trails come together. Motorized users need to be able to distinguish quickly and easily that a route is legal or not.

And yet, that necessary signing does not exist everywhere. A rider or driver could easily make the wrong choice without ill-intent.

"I'm sure that is possible at this point," said Crooks with the Hiawatha forest. "Enforcement is going to be a process of education. We need to let people know where to get maps and how to use them."

Unfortunately, that too is somewhat of a problem. Forest staffers say their maps are available online. But they readily admit those maps are unusable without a special printer. The other alternative is a very large magnifying glass.

The maps are available, however, free from each national forest office. They will mail them for free or you can stop in and get one. Just be sure to stay off those closed two-tracks on the way.

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