When I first started my position at Teton Basin Ranger District, the number one complaint I received was related to OHV use. Currently, the top complaint is about illegal and unscrupulous mountain bike riders followed by motorized users. One illegal route (even if it’s been there for many years) can create an access point where hundreds of riders might go to next. Wildlife habitat can be fragmented, sensitive vegetation destroyed, and quality of life for various landowners negatively impacted.
Recently, we issued tickets to several members of the community who knowingly chose to ride illegal mountain bike trails up a canyon closed to that activity. I have to admit I was disappointed, largely in part because I know several of the individuals who organized the event. As a federal agency the USFS must comply with federal regulations and laws. Travel management is primarily completed by decisions generated from analysis through National Environmental Policy Act where the agency is often required to document that the new trails show no significant impact to the environment. Following the 2008 travel management decision for the Big Hole and Palisades areas, the Forest Service worked closely with numerous community organizations for the next nine years to develop legal, sustainable trails in the area. We spent countless hours developing plans, conducting meetings and coordinating with other agencies to provide amazing recreation opportunities that do not significantly impact wildlife. The new South Valley Trail System is a prime example of successful collaboration. In fact, we are currently in the process of building two new trails – South Hillside and the Campground Loop. These will provide several miles of new beginner/intermediate routes for our community. If a trail wasn’t included in the last plan, there was a good environmental reason it was not included.
While education is always our first step, sometimes people knowingly choose to violate rules. When it becomes obvious that rules are intentionally disregarded, we issue citations. This isn’t something I like to do, but illegal trail building and riding should not be condoned. I recently read a short piece that said, “Everyone is entitled to their viewpoint regarding the appropriate use of their public lands. However, violating the law is not an option.” There is a common misperception in some mountain biking communities that “if you build it, the Forest Service will eventually incorporate it into the Travel Management Plan.” This idea of intentionally constructing illegal trails to get what you want is a misapprehension and will have negative effects on the future of your sport.
Our community is growing and with that growth comes more stress on our natural resources. Different forms of recreation have different effects to our wildlife and watersheds. Planning and acknowledgment of the different impacts uses can have on the landscape needs to occur.
These public lands are yours, but we ask that you recreate responsibly and stay on legal, designated routes and trails. If you don’t understand why a trail is closed, call our office and we can explain what factors were considered in that decision. Be respectful of your environment and become an ambassador for your sport by staying on designated routes.
We live in a great community. With access to public lands and endless recreational opportunities outside our backdoor, it’s easy to want to explore every nook and cranny. As the Teton Basin District Ranger, I support that curiosity, but I need to make sure it’s done in a way that protects the land for all users, including wildlife and vegetation. Legal, and I stress the term legal, trail systems are built with consensus from a wide range of interests and take into consideration all these factors. All wheeled vehicles need to remain on designated routes to protect our wildlife, watersheds and our riding privileges.