Trail closures still being debated
It might have looked something like a summit or meeting of the minds, but user groups and the Forest Service were clearly still at odds during an Oct. 20 Mammoth Lakes Trails meeting at the Mammoth Library. Inyo National Forest Trails Coordinator Marty Hornick attempted to present an update about motorized issues, including the recent implementation of the Inyo National Forest’s Travel Management Decision (TMD), but that got derailed early on when public comment grabbed the spotlight, and refused to cede it.
The decision, which was signed in 2009 by then Inyo National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch, has drawn criticism from several forest road users who object to the massive amount of road closures recently put into effect.
One new revelation from Hornick addressed safety concerns regarding barricades that some user groups considered winter hazards to snowmobilers. Roads are open to non-motorized use, i.e. mountain bikes, Hornick said, and new safety measures are being implemented to lower blockade materials to no higher than 18 inches. “We’re trying to work on techniques as we go and we’re taking suggestions,” he said. ”Where we have situations such as that, where we have mountain bike use, let’s work on those. It’s critical that we get adequate disguising on some of these trails, so they will start recovering and it becomes clear that it’s not a legitimate road.”
Vertical mulching and brush installation is thought to be an alternative that would eliminate the need for any barricades on many closed trails. Hornick said roughly 2,500-2,600 sections are still to be closed, but that the INF is open to ways to improve things. “It seems like there’s never enough time to do an absolutely thorough job,” Hornick said.
Joe Parrino and James Connolly balked at what they perceive as a divide between motorized and non-motorized, and emphasized their perception that Friends of the Inyo, which was contracted by the Forest Service to help with on-the-ground implementation, used its voice to get the business of closing trails, while saying they are pro-motorized. “That’s the same as motorized users lobbying to close hiking trails,” James Connolly analogized. “I can walk through Vons, but that doesn’t make me a hiker. They can say they’re pro-motorized, but the proof is in the pudding.” Hornick countered that FOI got the contract because they had the organization to execute it.
Support from new INF Supervisor Ed Armenta was one of the few things that sat well with Parrino. “At least he’s motorized,” Parrino observed, as opposed to Upchurch, who Parrino charged wasn’t. “[Armenta’s] very interested in working with folks,” Hornick said. “He’s been riding around on rhinos and is open to ideas.”
Hornick was candid that it’s one thing to see the TMD on paper, and another to see a familiar route closed in front of you. “There are perhaps cases where we made some mistakes; it’s not necessarily perfect document,” he admitted. Hornick also defended FOI’s work, saying the group “has frankly done more to help highlight routes than all the other user groups combined. We’ve caught wrong signs and route closures, but we find out about these errors quickly and can get on it, even before the public knew it happened. People don’t know how much GPS data is going into this.”
He said that the so-called “spaghetti bowl” map layout is confusing to users, and that “there is some cleanup to do there.” Meanwhile, he called volunteer groups tearing out what the Forest Service has put in place “not productive.” That action requires money to put back what is still considered illegal, he added, and puts the USFS in a law-enforcement mode, strains relationships, and takes away from education and cooperation.
During the next year, Hornick said the next phase would address what happens to the closed routes. Some, he described, could become part of the Mammoth trails system, horse trails, bike trails. Others could be restored, abandoned, rerouted for water, or even added back in for motorized use.