A chance encounter happened today with a government trail contractor. He has been working on trail repairs, reroutes, and new construction in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest (B-D NF). This is the Forest in Southwest Montana that completed a Forest Plan in 2009 and subsequently closed over 400 miles of trails to bicycling. These trails are in Recommended Wilderness (RWA). Several of the 16 or so RWAs were important to the bicyclists of Southwest Montana, and had been for 25 years or more.
The B-D NF has somehow found some construction money, and has hired contractors to perform major trail construction within the Recommended Wilderness Areas. The rush is on to complete the trail system modernization while the areas are not yet designated Wilderness. The Forest Plan allows for mechanized and motorized access for these trail projects in the RWAs. Once designated by Congress as Wilderness any further work would have to be accomplished by hand.
The contractor made a strong point of telling me that the trail work he is doing, to job spec, would make great bike trails. Constructed to bike grade and even built with banked turns, he said itís a shame the trail is not going to be used much. Presently as a contractor he can and does ride a motorcycle to work each day. The Forest Service inspector rides a mountain bike out to check on progress. They had talked about the Forest Plan access issues. The contractor told me that every Forest official he has worked with is not in agreement with the bicycle closures. The closures have been dictated from above all along. He stated that all of the projects he has worked on would make good bike trails. Indeed they all used to be open to bikes.
During the public comment phase of the Forest Plan process, it was quite clear that nothing we could say would change the outcome of the Regional Forest Supervisorís intent. The intent was to close areas to certain uses in order to influence members of Congress to not have pause when considering Wilderness sponsorship.
Interesting fact. At the end of each RWA description in the Forest Plan is a sentence:
Management changes if released from wilderness designation
Mountain bikes are allowed
To me this means that the closures are not intended because of user impact concerns, but to satisfy Wilderness advancement. Any other opinions?
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Thread: SW Montana update