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By Robert Janis

Anatomy of a Trail System: Creating the Black Hills South Dakota Designated Trails
Part 2: Concerns

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 des ignated 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. But 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. And, 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

Concerns

Photo(s) Courtesy South Dakota Tourism

There are a number of things that concern off-highway vehicle enthusiasts when it comes to the development of a designated, managed trail system. They are:

  • Engineering
  • Education
  • Enforcement
  • Evaluation
  • Making sure businesses related to OHV recreation are tied into the trail system to assure that they stay in business.
  • Funding
  • Convenient Trail Access

Mumm pointed out that the process is now in the engineering stage. “They are working on how these routes will be adapted and engineered,” he said. “There are a lot of user-created routes or unclassified routes that need to be designated, and there is always concern over that sort of process. There are essential routes and yet those routes also need to be engineered to be sustainable. That costs money! So there is a concern over funding. Then there is a concern over the number of routes, and the quality of the routes.”

“Then there’s education,” continued Mumm. “For this to be successful, you must educate the people who will be using the trails. Education comes in several different ways including how the routes are marked on the ground, what is and is not appropriate trail use, and that leads into the concern of enforcement. How are you going to enforce the trail rules? That depends on a cooperative effort between the members of the OHV community and the managing agency, in this case, the National Forest Service. You need to get solid volunteer programs in place, and you need to make sure there is adequate funding to accomplish what is needed.

“Then on-going evaluation is a concern,” continued Mumm. “The evaluation is necessary to make certain that the trail system is as effective as it can be and that it is providing a quality experience while protecting the environment.”

Mumm noted that under the guidelines of the Travel Management Rule improvements can be made to the trails.

Funding is a concern now because the South Dakota legislature failed to pass the sticker law. So there might be a need to find an alternative way to fund the trails. “There is a national budget crunch. So the Travel Management Rule came without a pocketbook,” said Mumm. “The National Forest Service thought that the designating process could take place without additional funding and that the money needed could be transferred from other planning processes. We never thought that was the correct way to go.
“So in lieu of that, enthusiasts pushed to get the state involved,” continued Mumm. “We wanted them to develop a sticker program, and we pushed for legislation on that as well as on an OHV program which would involve all issues of OHV recreation. However, due to political reasons the legislation was never introduced. So the National Forest Service is looking for alternative ways to fund the trails.

“When the process started, the Black Hills National Forest in conjunction with its National Forest Advisory Board created a sub-committee consisting of representatives from local government agencies and the OHV community and other interests to help advise the Forest Service as it moves forward on seeking funding alternatives,” continued Mumm. “The Forest Service has asked this sub-committee to help them come up with an alternative funding plan.”

The lack of a funding plan could delay the final approval of a trail system, admitted Mumm. However, he doesn’t believe it will be a problem. “What we are worried about is that the Forest Service could use lack of funding as an excuse to put something less on the ground,” he said. “It’s a concern of many enthusiasts, but I’m optimistic. The Travel Management Rule is on a track across the entire country. Washington believes this can be done by 2009, but that is not a hard, fast deadline. Still, with an apparent deadline in place, I think people are inclined to get it done.”

Mumm also noted that one of the essential ingredients for making the trail system successful is to include businesses and communities. He points to other successful trail systems like the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system and the Paiute Trail System as examples of how involving business and communities in the management of the system has made them successful.

Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn
Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn 

Mumm added that Eric Hunt, president of SDOHVC, has asked the Black Hills State University to do an economic impact study to see how businesses and communities are affected by the ATV recreationists and their use of the trails in the area. The study will begin in the summer.

“Once we have an economic impact study, we can use it to get communities more involved and to get the Forest Service more serious about the program,” said Mumm. “It will show the value of the trail system to the community. It should also help get the state to do what it has to do.”

Mumm volunteered that the Southern Research Station of the National Forest Service did a study over the course of several years--from 1993 through 2007--regarding OHV recreation nationally by a state-by-state basis. “The findings were remarkable,” he said. “It showed that 166,000 people in South Dakota, 27 percent of the people who live in the state, enjoy some form of OHV recreation. The study also shows that they are enjoying OHV activity 27 days of the year. Calculate all of that out, and it comes out to an extremely large amount of money OHV recreation generates. Each individual state’s numbers in that study are amazing. What’s needed is an economic impact statement at the local level, and it will be done.” The Southern Research Station OHV study can be found on the internet at http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/program ... c1rpt.pdf

Mumm believes that ways to incorporate businesses into the trail system should be part of the overall package. One concept being talked about is trailheads. OHV-related businesses, campgrounds, resorts, etc. that are adjacent to the trails are asking that they be allowed to construct trailheads where people who will use the trails can gain access to them. The trailheads would be constructed and maintained by the business that has them. Such a thing could help OHV-related businesses stay in business and assure that people who use the trails are not entering them off the side of highways and roads and traveling over private property that could be damaged in the process.

One major advocate for easy public trail access is Jesse Jurrens, owner of the Top 50 Rally Park, Rapid City and Piedmont, South Dakota. The park is adjacent to the trail system. Tyna Bower, property and events manager for the park and Black Hills UTV Rally said that Jurrens is trying to work with the National Forest Service to allow him to have a trailhead at his park. “We are working with the local government and the National Forest Service to create a trailhead with direct access to the trail system,” she said. “So far the Forest Service plans include no trailheads. So it is possible that people will park their trailers on the side of the road and get onto the trails there. During the Black Hills UTV Rally and throughout the year there are a lot of people coming in with three to four ATVs on a trailer, or a camper trailer, who will need a large space to park and unload. A trailhead will give them that.”

She noted that a lot of businesses she is familiar with as well as Top 50 Rally Park are working with the BlueRibbon Coalition and the Off-Road Riders Association to try and get the National Forest Service to authorize access to these locations, creating trailheads as part of the overall package. “These groups are helping to develop relationships with private businesses, government officials, and communities to allow for trailheads at businesses that are adjacent to the trail system,” said Bower. “The problem is most businesses supporting OHV use and areas large enough to become trailheads are not on Forest Service land. These areas currently have access to the trail system via section lines, county roads, or other means. In order to keep or create access to the new trail system these establishments will need not only the Forest Service’s approval of trails leading toward these areas, but also permission from their local governments and support from the people of these adjoining communities. It takes us all working together to decide how and where to create trail access that works best for all.”

She noted that businesses could get grants from the state or from ATV manufacturers which can be used to pay for construction and maintenance of the trailheads.

“A trailhead constructed and maintained by an OHV-related business means that funds otherwise used to construct and maintain the trailheads can be used in more effective ways or elsewhere on the trail system,” said Mumm.

Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn
Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn 

Troy Hall, president of the Off-Road Riders Association, explained that the state of South Dakota needs to have a law that not only includes a sticker program that will raise funds for the trail system but also provide answers to other issues that, if not settled, could offer confusion in the administering of the trail system. Some issues that need to be cleared up include a definition of what an off-highway vehicle is, which off-highway vehicles can ride on roads, which off-highway vehicles need to have licenses, etc.
“South Dakota doesn’t have a sufficient definition of what an off-highway vehicle is,” said Hall. “So trying to nail that down is important. Another hot topic that needs to be settled is that South Dakota can register ATVs as long as they are larger than 250cc, and ATVs can ride on highways as long as they are not interstate highways. To do that the owner has to put a license plate on his ATV as though it is a motorcycle. Our concern is that there is a lot of highway that runs through forests that are the responsibility of the National Forest Service. So we need to know what ATVs are allowed to ride over those highways. A lot of the language being used by the feds is around the term ‘Highway legal.’ We need to know what is highway legal and does that mean they need to have license plates.”

So the state needs to pass a comprehensive OHV law that takes funding and all these other issues into account.

Finally, there is the concern for the creation of volunteer programs that can assist in the management, enforcement, and maintenance of the new trail system.

“Besides everything else, the most effective trail systems make extensive use of volunteers and volunteer programs,” said Mumm. “There are a number of successful volunteer programs around the nation including the Trail Ranger Program in Oregon and in San Bernardino, California. And the Wisconsin ATV Association has a great Trail Patrol Program. These are essential programs that can be used to leverage funds available for maintaining the trails. Incorporating volunteers into maintaining, patrolling and enforcing the trails as well as helping to educate users is essential.” Such programs will also help debunk attempts by groups opposed to off-highway vehicles to demonize riders. “It gives us the opportunity to show what the OHV community is all about,” said Mumm.

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


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