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By Robert Janis

Anatomy of a Trail System: Creating the Black Hills South Dakota Designated Trails
Part 3: The Process

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

The Process

Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn
Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn

According to Mumm, the process of creating a managed, designated trail system is covered under the National Environmental Protection Act. It calls for the National Forest Service to release a proposed action that includes maps, and the public has an opportunity to comment.

The next step is for the Forest Service to release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which in this case will come out in the summer of ‘08. Once that is released, the public will again have an opportunity to comment. “The DEIS should have several different alternatives to it that could range from a significant closure of available opportunity to a full-blown recreation alternative,” said Mumm. “People will have the opportunity to comment on those alternatives. Likely the Forest Service will have a preferred alternative attached. People will be able to comment on that, too.

“Then the Forest Service will take and incorporate the comments, suggestions, and changes and draft the Final Environmental Impact Statement with their preferred alternative, and then the Forest Service supervisor will make a decision,” continued Mumm. “The public will have a chance to appeal the decision after a Record of Decision is entered. If there is no appeal, the Forest Service is required to print up what is called ‘The Motor Vehicle Use Map’ and that triggers the change on the ground.”

Eric Hunt of SDOHVC noted that his group along with other off-highway vehicle clubs and enthusiasts have been working with the National Forest Service in identifying trails to be incorporated into the new system. “In the last few years we mapped a lot of the trails with other clubs and state groups, and we submitted the information to the Forest Service. The data is going through route designation now,” said Hunt.

Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn
Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn

The trails that were mapped and suggested for incorporation into the new trail system are based on the trails that OHV enthusiasts have ridden for years. “ATV and dirtbike riders sent us information about trails, and we developed a user inventory. We had two guys on our end working on the data and cleaning things up and then we submitted everything to the National Forest Service,” said Hunt.
“The Forest Service goes back through the information we provide and analyzes it,” continued Hunt. “They, for example, decide if a trail is a good route or a bad route. They inspect the area to see if, for example, a good trail crosses a creek that isn’t a rock bottom creek. Then they may decide that a bridge needs to be built over that creek. Another example is that they look for hills that may be too steep; and if so, the route will need to be redesigned to make it work. These sections may not be a part of the trail at first; but down the road, when the Forest Service has money, then they can go back and make the design changes and then make the area a part of the trail.”

Troy Hall of the Off-Road Riders Association said that he simply asked his members, “Where do you ride?” when he first started to identify routes to incorporate into the new system. “We tried to get feedback from our members so that we could go to the Forest Service and tell them what trails we wanted and why we wanted them,” he said. “We’ve worked with other clubs involved with the South Dakota Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition including Black Hills Jeeps to GPS the trails and get as much inventory as possible. We went out with cameras to take pictures to identify and document conditions of the trails and we’ve walked through sections of trail with Forest Service representatives to show the routes to them and to answer their questions.

“People have certain wants and desires,” continued Hall. “They’re looking for challenges, scenery, or a destination. We look at the big picture to identify trails that fit these wants. For example, there may be a good destination like a cave or something, and we need a trail to go there.  We’ve also been contacted by businesses that cater to OHV users who want trails that go to them. We’re pushing for a complete package.”

Hall said that walk-throughs with Forest Service personnel are most important. “It gives us an opportunity to actually show them where a trail is. It also gives us an opportunity to convince them to include a hill they may have been considering not including because it looks too steep. We’ve actually put Forest Service personnel on ATVs and dirtbikes and gotten them to ride a part of a trail so they know what we’re talking about.”

Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn
Photo Courtesy of Dean Anhorn

Other factors come into play as well. For example, research is done to determine if any archeological or historic sites are involved; and, if so, what kind of impact the trail has on that land and whether or not it should be included. Biologists and wildlife scientists have a chance to get involved and analyze the land and make comments.

It is expected that the process will be completed in early 2009.

As the process plays out, websites of organizations that have a vested interest in the plan will be posting information including schedules of public meetings to be held by the Forest Service, etc. That includes the South Dakota Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (www.sdohvc.org), the BlueRibbon Coalition (www.sharetrails.org), and the Off-Road Riders Association (www.offroadriders.org).

(Note: ATVSource will be doing a follow up story on the designated trail system for the Black Hills of South Dakota in the summer.)

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


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