Agency will monitor use and resource damage during trial period
By Marcy Stamper
ATV riders will be able to ride on select U.S. Forest Service roads, now that the agency has worked with rider and environmental groups to identify suitable routes in all seven ranger districts in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The roads will open to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) starting June 26.
The routes, all already open to other motorized traffic, will be open to wheeled ATVs, a special class of ATVs that must have certain safety features, like lights and mirrors, and a special license.
Local riders will be able to unload their ATVs at the Boulder Creek Sno-Park and ride to Tiffany Springs and Salmon Meadows, and to connect with roads in the Tonasket Ranger District to Conconully. Another spur leads to the north side of the Loup Loup summit and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife campground on Beaver Creek. The route offers 91 miles of riding.
Further south, riders can park at the Black Canyon Sno-Park and ride over the ridge to Echo Ridge on the Lake Chelan side. That network provides 62 miles of riding on Forest Service lands. The route connects with roads in Chelan County that are open to wheeled ATVs.
The Forest Service worked with rider groups including the North Central ATV Club and the environmental organizations Conservation Northwest, Trout Unlimited and the Wilderness Society to identify the routes, according to Cathy Dowd, public affairs officer with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The routes are being opened on a trial basis.
The ATV groups proposed a series of routes and the environmental groups reviewed the proposals for any that could threaten sensitive areas, primarily places where people might drive off the designated roads and damage meadows or wetlands, said Dowd. Staff in the ranger districts then reviewed the proposals in more detail and came up with the initial set of routes, she said.
The North Central ATV club also proposed routes including Harts Pass; the Rendezvous to Cub Creek and Goat Creek; and Buttermilk and Poorman creeks, said Ed Surette, a board member of the North Central ATV Club, who participated in the meetings with the Forest Service.
None of those routes was approved both because of environmental concerns and because the Forest Service wanted to limit the overall number of routes during this trial period, said Surette.
Some routes may have been deemed unsuitable because of visibility or other safety concerns, said Dowd.
Operating guidelines set by the groups state that the Forest Service will establish baseline data for the roads and surrounding areas so that they can tell if any damage is caused by allowing ATVs to use them or if modifications are necessary. The Forest Service plans to see how the routes are used throughout the season and will close them if there is any resource damage, including to the roads themselves, said Dowd.
After four meetings from October through April, Surette said he felt the Forest Service had balanced the concerns of the ATV riders and environmentalists.
The main concerns raised by the environmental groups were that people might ride cross-country and that there would be an overall increase in traffic, said Dowd. The impacts of exhaust on air quality or plants and animals were not a big issue, since the roads are already open to other motorized traffic, she said.
ATV groups will assist the Forest Service in monitoring use of the roads and educating riders about minimizing impacts, said Dowd.
Some ranger districts are holding public meetings to let people know about the routes and to encourage participation by rider groups as voluntary monitors, said Methow Valley District Ranger Mike Liu.
The Methow Valley Ranger District is not currently planning any meetings and there is less concern about off-road riding here because there is not much flat and accessible ground adjacent to the designated routes, said Liu. They are still working out the details of local monitoring, he said.
Working out agreements
Surette said the ATV club has contacted the Forest Service about working out formal agreements for the ambassador and partnership programs, which could include trail maintenance and outreach, he said.
The ATV groups want to be sure people ride responsibly and understand this is a trial period and that if there is a lot of damage, roads will be closed, but that if it is successful, there is the potential for expansion, said Surette. “We realize that this is a privilege and we need to make sure people don’t go out there and tear things up,” he said.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest initially opened roads to ATVs and then closed them again after further interpretation of whether the state law also covered roads managed by a federal agency. While the forest completes its travel management plan, these routes can be opened within the ranger districts as an administrative decision, said Liu.
The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC), a local environmental group that protested the initial Forest Service decision to open all roads to ATVs, chose not to participate in this process to designate new ATV routes.
In an announcement about the routes, MVCC said the group is wary because the Forest Service is working on the travel management plan that will determine which roads and areas throughout the forest are suitable for motorized use. Because that process includes public comment and environmental review, MVCC believes the opening of roads to ATV should be postponed until the overall travel plan has been completed.
MVCC is also concerned that all monitoring will be done on a volunteer basis.
Maps of the new routes will be available at Forest Service offices and online the week of June 22.