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Earth Notes

Forest Users Weigh in on Roads and Trails

ATV riders, hikers and hunters have given the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests hundreds comments on which roads they would like to see close and which they'd like to remain open.

By Laurel Morales

Flagstaff, AZ – SFX: sound of Ty starting up his quad and riding away

Ty Clark fires up his quad and revs his engine. He says he rides it every chance he gets. The tall 17-year-old wears a faded black Metalica T-shirt and braces. His mom Kathi Clark says he and his friends like to make movies of their adventures.

CLARK: So they like to kick up dust and make a lot of noise and make great movies. It's a fun healthy activity for them and this is what they need is some place to do it.

Clark says ideally she'd like to see a designated area for quad riders.

The Cinder Hills Off-Highway Vehicle Area northeast of Flagstaff was supposed to be that place.

CLARK: They like the cinders but these kids like to jump and race and the cinders is not conducive to that. They need packed dirt. They're happy to be way out on the prairie they don't need to be in the woods.

They call themselves the Flagstaff Fury. And they've gotten a bit of attention from their movies, which they've posted on you tube dot com.

SFX: sound of video

Ty and his friends can be seen doing wheelies, jumps and wild stunts.

People concerned about the possible damage they're doing to the forest have aired their frustrations on the Web. They say something should be done about it.

AMBY: Meeting chatter runs under next scene.

Jackie Denk, public affairs officer for the Kaibab National Forest, says forest officials agree.

DENK: We know something needs to be done. We have a lot of damage occurring and the reason that damage is occurring is simply because the sheer number of users we have and the sheer number of OHV users that's been going up so much in recent years. We have to do something

OHV riders currently can drive almost anywhere on the forest. Even driving off road isn't illegal as long as they don't do any damage. Still some OHVs have worn away the vegetation and created spur roads.

Denk starts a recent meeting on the Kaibab where forest officials talked with people on all sides of the issue.

DENK: Ok so what we're going to start out at this is the north part of the district and this is the south part

Large maps of the Kaibab lay out on two tables along with green and red markers. Forest officials invite people to draw on the maps indicating which roads they would like to see closed and which they'd like to remain open.

Kali Kaliche (Collie Cal-ee-chee), a hiker who loves quiet, says she's been involved with the mapping process from the start.

KALICHE: It is hard to be observing say where the turkeys are raising their broods and then all of a sudden have a group of ATVers race past you covering you in dust. It's just not as much fun when that happens.

But Kaliche realizes ATVers are also co-owners of the forest.

KALICHE: So I'm hoping there can be places for high use and places for minimal use so that we don't have confrontations out in the forest.

Several ATV riders also attend the meeting. Doug Focke (FO-key) and his wife Jean point out their favorite trails.

DOUG FOCKE: We'd like to see what's here stay here we like to get out in the forest because there's a lot to see old Indian ruins. It's a lot nicer than once you drop off the hill and get down in the desert.

JEAN FOCKE: I have arthritis in my ankles I can't hike so we can see a lot of wildlife. We can see a lot of scenery. I just really enjoy it.

Forest archaeologist Neil Weintraub says he's not worried about people like the Fockes. It's the people who go off road who are a concern.

WEINTRAUB: And there's lots of archaeological sites that aren't obvious to the public so driving in an off road vehicle it sorta creates new tracks and new damages that's hard for us to manage that.

Weintraub says most artifacts in the forest haven't been inventoried. When people drive off marked roads and trails, they could do serious damage to these undiscovered treasures.

Even after the maps are made and the designated roads are marked, Weintraub worries about enforcing the new transportation plan.

WEINTRAUB: Law enforcement it's going to be very difficult (laughs). We have two law enforcement officers on this zone.

Hunter Mike Benham is taking matters in his own hands.

BENHAM: When I'm out and I see somebody doing something they shouldn't be yeah I report em. If you don't, it's going to be like anything else the five percent that disobey the rules that ruin it for everybody else.

Benham and Weintraub agree. Forest officials will have to focus on educating the public. Then it will fall largely on the users of the forests to police themselves.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales.

Host outro: Kaibab officials say they plan to issue a proposed action later this month. A 30- day public comment period will follow. Plans from the Coconino National Forest are expected later this summer.