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By Robert Janis

Anatomy of a Trail System: Creating the Black Hills South Dakota Designated Trails
Part 1: The History

In November 2005 the National Forest Service finalized the Travel Management Rule. The Rule calls for all of the forests in the National Forest Service System to be designated roads, trails, and areas suitable for OHV use.

The transformation for some states’ National Forests has been relatively easy because they already had designated trails. However, for some states, the conversion has been more difficult.

Take, for example, South Dakota and the state’s Black Hills region. It is said that the current road and trail system in South Dakota is about 9,000 to 10,000 miles. About half of that are actual trails. For as long as the current off-highway vehicle enthusiasts who use the trails can remember, they have been classified as open unless designated as closed. Basically, what this means is that the trail system is open to riders. ATV, dirtbike, and other off-road vehicles can enter the trails from anywhere including off the side of roads and highways.

According to Bill Homperkamp, president of the Black Hills Badlands and Lakes Association, Rapid City, South Dakota, there are 61,000 ATVers in South Dakota. A lot of these vehicles are for utility use rather than pleasure or recreation. However, 70 percent of ATVs that ride the South Dakota trails are owned by people who live out of state.

In short, riding off-highway vehicles on the trails of South Dakota has become quite popular. Also, as a result, OHV enthusiasts have come to the realization that the trail system needs to be managed.
This article details the history, concerns, and process in the creation of a trail system for the Black Hills of South Dakota that fall into the regulations set down by the National Forest Service’s Travel Management Rule. Because of the size of this article, it has been broken up into three parts.

Part One: History
Part Two: Concerns
Part Three: The Process


Photo(s) Courtesy South Dakota Tourism

So prior to the Travel Management Rule, OHV clubs and enthusiasts and other organizations have been pushing the Forest Service and state to develop a managed trail system and have called for the legislature of South Dakota to pass legislation to fund the maintenance of such a trail system. Groups involved with OHV recreation called for a sticker program that would raise funds that could be used for this purpose.

Legislation was finally drafted which would have created a sticker program as well as include other issues involving OHV such as a definition of what an off-road/off-highway vehicle is, where they could ride, etc. The bill was supposed to be introduced to the state legislature in 2008, but it was not. No action has been taken on the bill. It is said that the legislature did not want to consider the legislation during an election year because it was a tax bill. What members of the legislature failed to understand was that the people who would have paid the tax through the purchase of stickers were willing to pay it in order to come up with funds that could be used to care for a trail system.

Now the National Forest Service is involved with the development of a designated trail system in the Black Hills as well as other parts of the state of South Dakota, and there is no funding mechanism that can be used to maintain what is ultimately approved.

Moreover, years prior to the 2005 Forest Service Travel Management Rule, organizations involved with OHV recreation including the South Dakota Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, the Off-Road Riders Association, and the BlueRibbon Coalition have been involved in mapping and identifying trails that could be incorporated into a managed trail system. All of this has dovetailed into the work of the National Forest Service and the mandate by the Travel Management Rule for them to create a managed, designated trail system.

According to Greg Mumm, executive director of the BlueRibbon Coalition and a long-time resident of the Black Hills region of South Dakota, the entire process started in about 2000 or 2001. “Early on we had several multiple use groups involved in an organization called the Black Hills Regional Multiple Use Coalition,” he began. “The group included people who were becoming aware of conflict issues and trail- related issues. So we all met to discuss a course of action that all off-road motorized groups could take, and we concluded that we needed to start working more proactively together to develop a trail system in the Black Hills where routes would be designated and folks would know where they could and could not ride. Out of that the BlueRibbon Coalition helped to form the South Dakota Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (SDOHVC) which was focused on motorized access to recreation.

“SDOHVC and other groups worked together to develop a comprehensive trail system with the National Forest Service in South Dakota as well as with other South Dakota agencies,” continued Mumm. “As that started to make progress, the Travel Management Rule was being discussed on the national level and the two efforts over time came together.”

Mumm pointed out that any system that is developed has to comply with the Travel Management Rule. “What would be developed would be a designated route and cross-country system that would be closed. Only areas that were to be designated as open could be ridden on,” said Mumm.

Prior to this, Mumm pointed out, the trails were and, in fact, still are managed as open. “It was open unless posted closed,” he said. “You could even travel across country as long as you did not cause damage.”

Eric Hunt, president of the South Dakota Off-Highway Coalition, pointed out that there was never an official trail system in the Black Hills. “The Black Hills is secluded from other forests,” he said. “And the area is not heavily populated. So there was not a lot of usage. But, over the years we’ve been getting a lot of people from out-of-state and people moving into the area who use the trails. It became evident that there was a need to have a managed trail system, and the National Forest Service in South Dakota was talking about developing new rules. So the SDOHVC stepped forward, went to the Forest Service and said that we wanted to give input in the development of the new rules and trail system.
“We actually started working with the Forest Service probably about seven or so years ago. We kind of knew that something like the Travel Management Rules would be coming, and we wanted to be ahead of the curve. This way, by getting involved early, we could assure that we had input in the process and that a minimal amount of trail would be lost.”

Ross Brown of the Off-Road Riders Association noted that as soon as it became apparent that the National Forest Service was going to develop a trail system, it was imperative for the off-highway vehicle community to get involved. “We were excited and concerned because in our area we’ve had the luxury of being able to ride where we wanted all of these years with few exceptions. The biggest thing we have to adjust to is going from open unless posted closed to closed unless posted open,” he said.

Part One: History | Part Two: Concerns | Part Three: The Process

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