Representing the Internet Community to the Forest Service

On Thursday, January 19, I attended the Trails Strategy Workshop with the National Forests in North Carolina in Mars Hill. Overall, the event was very encouraging and informative. Thanks to Alice Cohen, Trails Strategy Coordinator; Diane Rubiaco, Acting Supervisor; Michael Hutchins, Acting Appalachian District Ranger; Erik Crews; Dispersed Recreation Program Manager; and all the others with National Forest in North Carolina for working late to give us the opportunity to be heard. This is a huge deal, and it’s obvious that the Forest Service is coming around to the idea of getting plenty of input before making big, long-lasting decisions that affect our trails.

It’s great to see the land managers reaching out for public involvement in this way, and they did a great job of bringing everyone onto the same page in understanding what they’re trying to do. Throughout the various sessions in the workshop, they were able to demonstrate what common goals disparate trail user groups all have when it comes to trail system planning. They also quashed the inevitable suspicion that the Forest Service is out to just close as many trails as they possibly can (it was repeatedly emphasized that this was not the case).  There were over 40 people in attendance by my count, representing a variety of groups such as the Carolina Mountain Club (hikers), Pisgah SORBA (mountain bikers), equestrians, private camps, eco-tourism outfits, and many more. They also did a good job outlining the next steps going forward

The upcoming Working Meetings take place from February to September and will focus more on the specifics of what needs to happen in the trail system. Their stated outcomes include pursuing sustainability; establishing links, connectors, and loops; realistically prioritizing maintenance; coming up with criteria for consideration of future trail system change requests by the public; increasing volunteer contributions and efficiency in the face of dwindling budgets; and monitoring progress in implementing the plan. Although the meetings are open to the public, the Forest Service has asked organizations to send one representative each to keep the groups at a reasonable size, which seems like a good idea given how energized people get about this topic (as they should).

So although I’m not with any established group of the kind mentioned above, what I’d like to do is ask to be a representative for WNCOutdoors.info and its users. I know a lot of our visitors are those who live in the area but perhaps aren’t affiliated with any particular group or can’t attend meetings, and also those who visit from outside the immediate area but have a stake in the future of the trails system here. Please send me email, leave comments on the blog or our Facebook or Google+ pages, tweet to us on Twitter - just send us your input as to what you’d like to see happen to the trails in the National Forests in NC! I’ll try to bring those considerations to the table and ensure that every angle is explored as this important strategy is developed.

Likewise, I look forward to sharing more information back with everyone about what we learn might come out of this. I’ll also be encouraging the Forest Service to continue to be transparent and consistent in disseminating official information (such as potential new trails, change of trail designations, trail closures, and trail map data) as quickly as possible. They’ve been doing a great job at this so far, especially with their new web site (and the Trail Strategy Page), but we want to ensure that this continues so we can pass the information along to you in a way that matters most: boiled down to just the information you need to plan your next hike or ride!

History of the Bent Creek Logging Project and Trail Changes

This information originally appeared on the Bent Creek trailhead page, and was moved here in January 2012.

A 2004 Forest Service decision to move forward with a research logging project within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest turned 3.3 miles of existing singletrack trails into roads. In actuality, these trails followed old "unclassified" Forest Service logging roadbeds, and the roads were reconstructed to allow logging equipment and passenger vehicles to once again access the research areas. 2 miles of the 3.3 miles will be allowed to “revert to trail” as quickly as possible, while the remaining 1.3 miles of what was previously trail will be maintained as a closed gravel road. All reconstructed roads will be re-opened for mountain bike travel, though in a greatly altered condition. The trail that was permanently changed to road was the former Sidehill trail from Boyd Branch Road to Ledford Gap. Unfortunately, it contained two of the best singletrack trail segments within Bent Creek.

This project represented a significant change to the dynamics of mountain biking in WNC, as Bent Creek – and the particular trails being reconstructed – were some of the best options Asheville area mountain bikers had when they didn’t have a lot of time to drive. (New trail systems opening up near town have mitigated this somewhat in recent years). These moderately technical, moderately climbing trails appealed to a wide variety of users – from near beginner to expert – and they were quick and easy to access from the city of Asheville. The group of trails north of Bent Creek Gap Road combined to make many loop options, several of which were Best Rides on this site. Now that the project is complete, the trail system in Bent Creek is great to ride once again, and we will all still be able to enjoy fantastic mountain biking in this multi-use area.

It is important to note, however, that this project represented an excellent example of how public involvement can steer Forest Service actions. The original EA (Environmental Assessment) released to the public outlined a 5 mile road reconstruction project. The EA sparked
comments, debate, and letters by area residents and other land managers who were concerned about the effects of the project. After this public involvement period, Forest Service officials
re-considered the project and were able to reduce the amount of road reconstruction to 3.3 miles, which represents 1.7 miles of "saved" trail. This change underscores the Forest Service’s willingness to listen and work with the public on matters like this.

Also not to be forgoten is the research itself. This country’s National Forests are managed for the widest variety of uses for as many different users as possible. While Bent Creek has long been established as a mountain biking destination for locals and visitors to WNC alike, it has been around much longer as a research forest and this is the primary purpose of this area. Frankly, I applaud the Forest Service for even allowing recreation in Bent Creek and greatly applaud them for scaling back their road reconstruction to save our trails. The value of the research done in the Experimental Forest should not be underestimated. In the EA, it appears that in many locations, American Chestnut and Chestnut hybrid trees will be planted. This is an interesting development, and as far as I am aware, this represents the first release of the resistant, genetically altered trees back into the "wild" after being eliminated by the Chestnut Blight in the first half of this century.

Trails Affected by the 2005 – 2007 Logging Project

Trail Map Number Comments
Little Hickory Top 136
  • Lower half of trail has been converted into a gravel road
  • This will be allowed to “revert back to a trail” but will take a while to resemble a singletrack trail in any way
  • This was used by "The Top" Best Ride, which has been removed from this site.
Sidehill 145
  • This was previously one of the best singletrack trails in the region
  • The section from Ledford Branch Road Boyd Branch Road has been permanently changed into a gravel road
  • This section was used by the "Single Track Sampler " ride, which has been removed from this site.
  • The section from Boyd Branch Road to Litttle Hickory Top will be allowed to “revert to a trail”
  • This will likely take a long time to resemble a trail again
  • This section was used by "The Top" Best Ride, which has been removed from this site.