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MANAGING FOR MULTIPLE-USE TRAILS

From Horse Trails Symposium, Clemson University (Nov. 1998).

By Jim B. Miller

"We cannot provide a separate trail for every use and user group. There is not enough land for multiple trail systems."

The U.S. Forest Service manages trails for a wide array of trail users. While multiple use has been an oft-used phrase, it would be more appropriate to focus our efforts on sharing the trails, i.e., shared use. By sharing physical support, financial support, and use, we can become more efficient and effective in the management of our trail systems. Past and continuing dedication has resulted in increased support for trails. We need to keep moving forward with positive attitude of sharing.

The Forest Service manages over 133,000 miles of trails. We have interest from, opportunities for, and use by many different trail groups that we know of and perhaps some of which we are unaware.

How do we compatibly and successfully accommodate this broad array of interest groups? Some may feel that either we can not, or that we do not. While this is true in some specific situations, I am an optimist. I believe that we can— IF, we change the management philosophy from multiple-use, to shared use.

Think about the word "share." I will bet that you can still hear your parents' voices: " You need to share." (This is especially true if you are a parent.) They meant that you needed to get along with your siblings and friends because you are all going to have to live in the same house or the same neighborhood. In the context of trail systems, the concept of sharing means:
a) tolerance of others who wish to use the trails in a reasonable but different manner,
b) respect for the values of other users, and
c) demonstration of support for uses other than that of your own interest group.

True or not, and in no particular order, the following are a few comments that the Forest Service has received regarding trails:

"Want to express our grave concerns regarding the destructive transformation of the trail being done by the Forest Service. Under the guise of widening the trail to make it safer for hikers, this beautiful, scenic trail is being converted into an ugly, dusty, rocky and hazardous roadway to make it supposedly suitable for horses and bikers."

A contrasting comment on the very same trail: "Thank you so much for widening the trail. The last time we hiked the trail prior to the widening, my friend slipped off the narrow path and twisted her ankle. The trail is much safer to hike on now."

Examples of typical comments that we receive on other National Forest System trails are as follows:

"Some trails are being widened without agency permission and new trails are being constructed by ATV users without approval of the agency. When we arrived at the gate, we were told it would cost $5.00 per bicycle to enter; when we said we were on a tandem (bicycle for two), we were told the fee was $5.00 each."

"How many miles of the total trail mileage is wheelchair accessible? There appears to be inadequate opportunities for wheelchair access to the recreational opportunities."

"Many visitors are greeted by an estimated 1,000 miles of trail needing maintenance or reconstruction; but recreation programs received half of planned budgets."

"The local homeowners have closed the trail to all but hikers by building a gate, and the Forest Service isn't doing anything even though the trail has been a public easement for 15 years."

"Talked about OHV use during hunting season, with a handicapped permit from the State, on State and National Forest System lands."

"Request the Forest Service save, protect, restore, and maintain the trail as a walking only, self-guided, interpretive, nature trail."

"The usefulness of National Forests is not multiple use, but to provide areas to preserve natural systems, as opposed to one of providing commodities or recreation."

Such comments are not conducive to promoting a shared vision. By in large, they tend to be single-minded about their own interest in trails, and closed-minded to the interests of others.

In contrast, perhaps the following comments are cause for optimism:

"We are learning about use of Forest Service lands. I would like information about laws and regulations regarding 4-wheel drive vehicles. My topic is: Should horses be allowed on hiking trails in the National Forests?"

"About 40 residents gathered to discuss forest uses; varied in interest from hiker to all-terrain vehicle rider, from snowmobiler to cross-country skier, and from horseback rider to trail bike rider."

"Attendance at the trail Grand Opening was over 100; since that day, the trail has seen regular use by both local friends and out-of-towners."

"About 50 attended the opening of the new trail system, including 21 equestrians and numerous hikers and some mountain bikers."

"Several groups consisting of outfitters, equestrians, motorbike trail riders, hikers, and government personnel surveyed the trail to see the existing condition; alternatives were discussed; this could be an example of compromise and accomplishment for which we can all be proud."

"The trail will be rerouted out of the streambed onto a sidehill to stop the damage that is occurring because of the trail's poor location and high use levels; hope to accomplish as much of the work as possible with volunteers; several local bike shops indicated a willingness to help."

"Youngsters often complain there isn't anything to do; but if a group of several area businesses, a local planner and a sheriff's official get a plan approved, it could result in a unique park that would combine a number of recreational activities, including off-road bicycling and motorcycling."

I believe that mutual support among user groups is very important. Abraham Lincoln said it best, "United we stand." Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck may have established the posture for the agency when in August 1998 he made the following comment to one of the Regional Foresters:

"I was pleased to read the article about the work you are undertaking with BLM and trail users to determine where best to protect resources while providing motorized and non-motorized trail activities. This issue affects many National Forest users and addresses a key area of the Forest Service Natural Resource Agenda in recreation and watershed health and restoration, as well as, customer service. The perspectives shared clearly conveyed the need for change and for cooperation among diverse trail users to make it happen."

Recreation and a trail system serving a wide array of interest groups have been a part of the Forest Service's management objectives from the time of the agency's origin. We have changed to meet customer (citizen) expectations while protecting the land, and we are willing to continue to adapt to evolving situations. However, we are aware that every use and user group cannot be accommodated on every trail. Further, we cannot provide a separate trail for every use and user group. There is not enough land for multiple trail systems.

We must rely on users showing consideration for one another and sharing the trail. As we depend heavily on volunteer assistance in the maintenance of the trail system, the combined efforts of volunteers from the various trail groups who will share the workload are of ultimate importance.

Development, maintenance, and regulation of trail systems on individual units of the National Forest System is the task of the local forest management team. However, in the spirit of the National Forest Management Act of 1976, the decision-making should be carried out with active participation of the public. I encourage you to:
a) get involved,
b) stay involved, and
c) be part of the solution.

As a result of the past and continuing dedication and efforts of many of you in attendance and your associates back home, we have seen an upturn in the interest and financial support for trails. Let's keep that interest moving forward with a shared effort towards a shared vision.

Mr. Jim Miller is the Dispersed Recreation Program Manager for the USDA-Forest Service in Washington, DC. He is a native of Virginia and holds a BS Degree from William and Mary University, and a Master of Forestry from Duke University. He served in the U.S. Army as Assistant Post Forester at Fort A.P. Hill from 1974 to 1978. He began his career with the U.S. Forest Service serving on the Recreation and Lands staffs for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska (1978-1985) and the San Bernardino National Forest in California (1985-1992). He moved to Washington in 1992 where he worked on the Controlled Correspondence, Recreation Staff until 1996 when he assumed his present position.

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