By Chad Wilberger, Recreation Resource Manager, Wayne National Forest
The closing of these trails and subsequent impacts to the local economy was a revelation to many in the community and the Forest Service.
Damage from the January floodwaters in southeastern Ohio forced the Wayne National Forest to delay opening the 182 miles of motorized and nonmotorized trails on the Athens Ranger District. Twenty-four of the twenty-five trail bridges that were inspected required moderate to heavy repair work to their support structures.
Four road and trail slips and five culverts were also identified for repair. A slip on the Kinderhook equestrian trail was so significant that a section had to be permanently closed.
Bags of dry cement (80 lbs. each) were carefully stacked and anchored by hammering rebar through each bag to help reconstruct the bridge abutments and center supports. The bags gradually harden as they absorb moisture from rain and the stream. In a year or so the paper encasing the concrete will eventually dissolve from exposure to the weather, leaving the look of a gray retaining wall or support structure.
Trail riding, particularly ATVs and off-highway motorcycles, are popular on the Wayne with over 20,000 riders from 31 different states visiting in 2004. With so many riders affected by the trail closure, and with so little time to make repairs, the Forest developed a communication campaign to quickly inform the public of the trail opening delay.
In addition to mailings, signage, and phone calls, the Ohio Department of Transportation graciously provided two electronic highway bulletin boards that were stationed along U.S. Highway 33 to inform visitors of the trail closure.
Four volunteer workdays were organized and many valuable trail maintenance and construction projects were successfully completed. Projects included constructing fences to block illegal trails, constructing a new ATV loading ramp, culvert cleaning, and garbage pick up.
On the Marietta Unit, sixteen mountain bikers and horsemen contributed over 730 man-hours to help maintain over 100 miles of hiking/biking and horse trails.
The closing of these trails and its subsequent impacts to the local economy was a revelation to many of the people in the community and the Forest Service. Sally Dunker, Director of the Athens County Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CVB), as well as other community leaders have mentioned the fact that they have seen a noticeable reduction in the amount of traffic through the town of Nelsonville, Ohio, which is located adjacent to the ATV trail system.
Mrs. Dunker also added that this reduction translates to a significant loss in revenue to the local economy. For the two and a half months that the trails remained closed, the CVB estimated revenue loss to be approximately one million dollars.
To date, over 1.67 million of USDA Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration dollars have been received to help with cleanup and restoration of the Forest's developed recreation sites, trails, wetlands, and streambanks.
Thanks to cooperation by the public in respecting the closure, volunteer assistance, supplemental funding, and good weather, the Forest reopened most of the trails by July 1, 2005. Local businesses and visitor's bureaus have expressed their relief that the trails would be back in operation and were planning "welcome back" events.
For more information: Chad Wilberger, Wayne National Forest, 13700 U.S. Hwy 33, Nelsonville, OH 45764 - (740) 753-0884 or [email protected]