280 Miles of Trails Closed to ATVs, Dirtbikes and UTVs at Halsey in Nebraska

April 18, 2010
By Dan Nitzel, NOHVA Business Manager, Co-founder
danno@nohva.com

The U.S. Forest Service, Nebraska National Forest, announced their decision concerning the Travel Management Plan for the Bessey Ranger District near Halsey on April 13th.  While we expected a considerable amount of trails to be closed, the news is worse than we hoped.  99.9% of all land at the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey will be closed to recreational ATV, dirtbike and UTV riders.  94% of all trails will be closed to ATV, dirtbike and UTV riders.  The decision clearly helps to discourage recreational ATV, dirtbike and UTV trail recreation at the Bessey Ranger District near Halsey.  The ‘official’ press release from the Forest Supervisors office in Chadron is at the end of this article.   

To view the difference for yourself, view the trail maps before and after the Travel Management Plan:
TRAILS OPEN BEFORE THE TRAVEL MANAGEMENT PLAN -  Roads that are in black have been closed to ATV, dirtbikes and UTVs since 2001 for safety reasons, with the concurrence of NOHVA.  Most all other trails were open to ATVs, dirtbikes and UTVs before the Travel Management Plan.
AFTER THE TRAVEL MANAGEMENT PLAN - Only the black trails will remain open to ATVs and dirtbikes now with the Travel Management Plan and only the pink/purple trails will remain open to ATVs, dirtbikes and UTVs. 

TRAVEL MANAGEMENT PLAN WEB SITE FOR THE NEBRASKA NATIONAL FOREST (click here)

As endorsed by Nebraska National Forest Supervisor Jane Darnell, a modified version of Alternative 2 was announced.  The Modified Alternative 2 offers only 19 miles of recreational ATV and dirtbike trails.  From my calculations, only about two or three miles of trails will be open to UTV users.   

NOHVA supported the original proposed alternative 2 that offered 27 miles of trails for ATV, dirtbike and UTV riders.  

The announcement of the Modified Alternative 2 is a big surprise to our organization.  We expected the Forest Service to play fair.  Instead they have treated us unfairly and pulled this surprise Modified Alternative 2.  The U.S. Forest Service has dealt a major blow to ATV and dirtbike recreation in Nebraska.  I think that they will find that this decision will greatly increased their difficulty of managing recreational ATV, dirtbike and UTV enthusiasts. 

Under the Modified Alternative 2, only 19 miles of ATV and dirtbike trails will remain open, down from 300 miles.  Of the open riding areas, only 18 acres will remain open, down from 90,000.  Compared to the original Alternative 2 that NOHVA supported, UTV owners gained a few miles of trails and ATV and dirtbike riders lost about 8 miles for a total of 280 miles of trails closed.  The miles of 4x4 trails for use by licensed vehicles have increased dramatically under the modified alternative 2. 

ATV and dirtbike riders should be prepared for vigorous enforcement of the new Travel Management rules.  Last year, the staff at Bessey issued numerous tickets with stiff fines to ATV and dirtbike riders for relatively minor infractions.  With the new Travel Management Plan in effect, ATV and dirtbike riders should be extremely careful and be on their BEST behavior.  It’s well known that long time U. S. Forest Service staff members and local law enforcement can be cantankerous toward ATV, dirtbike and UTV enthusiasts.  With the new Travel Management Plan in effect, riders should expect stepped up intimidation of ATV and dirtbike riders from officials.

As of this writing, our organization is preparing a response to the decision of the new Travel Management Plan.   If you would like to become involved in our response, please contact me as soon as possible.   

There is some good news.  According to the new District Ranger Terry Baker, the proposal to prohibit ATV and dirtbike riders from riding to and from their camp site and trails from the main camp ground and the Whitetail Campground has been put on hold for now.  The main camp ground is officially named the Bessey Recreation Complex and is located near state highway 2. The Whitetail Campground is the facility located next to the Dismal River along the south boundary of the Forest. 

The Forest Service intends to step up efforts to inform ATV and dirtbike riding campers of the camp ground rules, and we expect the rules to be very strictly enforced.  If there is not a very significant response from the ATV and dirtbike riders who use the camp ground this year, then the campground will be closed to all ATV and dirtbike riders.

Of the trails at the Bessey Ranger District near Halsey, the remaining open trails are:
The Dismal River Trail (Trail 112)
The Power Line Trail (Trail 113)
The Poison Ivy Trail (Trail 114)
Fence Line Trail (Trail 115)
A short section of 214 located in the south part of the Forest
Trail 120
Trail 121
Trail 118
Trail 119

All other trails not listed are now closed. 

The Modified Alternative 2 that is now in effect will dramatically impact ATV, dirtbike and UTV recreation at Bessey.  The decision by the Forest Service to significantly reduce miles of ATV trails will degrade the user experience.  Placing more people on an already over crowded, deteriorating  and poorly managed trail system will further compound problems.    I know the decision will depress the willingness of our volunteers to help with trails.   Even though a proposed EDAWS trail plan was unveiled in 2009 that would add more miles of ATV, dirtbike and UTV trails, the implementation of the plan, in this authors view, is remote at best.

I have been involved with trail planning at the Nebraska National Forest since 1988.  With the implementation of the modified Travel Management Plan, I can think of no other time that has looked bleaker for recreational ATV and dirtbike riders at Bessey.   During that time, I have been a part of two other ATV and dirtbike trail development plans presented by the Nebraska National Forest.  None of them have ever been implemented. 

Furthermore, it is logical to assume that these factors will further prohibit any additional trail planning and development:

  • With upcoming federal budget cuts, U.S. Forest Service funding for trails at the Bessey Ranger District will not be available.

  • The current administration in Washington is not motorized trails friendly and there is a growing trend nationwide to close ATV, dirtbike and UTV trails. 

  • Among the longtime Forest Service the staff at Halsey, there is little if any support for ATV, dirtbike and UTV recreation.

  • There is strong local opposition by the politically influential toward recreational ATV, dirtbike and UTV trails at the Nebraska National Forest. 

  • There is little if any support among state senators for recreational ATV and dirtbike trails in the area and in Nebraska in general. 

  • In the past there has been strong support to close trails at the Nebraska National Forest among wildlife managers with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. 

  • Nebraska has no state wide trail user fee or registration program to fund trails.  Even if a user fee or registration program was in place on the state level,  at this time there is no state agency willing to manage the fund.  We fear that any state managed  fund would be eaten up in administration fees or used for other unrelated programs. 

  • The Forest Service has no local trail user fee.  Without a trail fee, it can be said that it’s a matter of time before trails that have been allowed to remain open under the new Travel Management Plan may no longer be allowed to exist because of the absence of funds for maintenance and resource repair.

 

U.S. Forest Service Press Release:

Forest Supervisor Jane Darnell announced the Record of Decision to implement a Travel Management Plan for the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands today.  The plan changes how users access and recreate on the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands.

“This initial Travel Management Plan includes existing trails and roads,” said Darnell.  “There may be opportunities to further develop the travel management system for motorized users as need and funding allows.”

Some roads and trails will be closed, especially those that were user-created, to prevent damage to the land and cultural resources.  Users are encouraged to obtain the Motorized Vehicle User Maps, available for free at all forest and grasslands offices, prior to using trails and roads.  In some cases, motorized vehicle users may need to plan alternate routes.

“This new plan meets requirements established by the national Travel Management Rule,” said Darnell.  “My decision will not meet everyone’s expectations, but it is an important step toward protecting natural resources, while providing motorized and non-motorized recreational experiences.  The transition to our Travel Management Plan will be much smoother if users understand the changes and respect the established routes, trails and routes.”


Extensive public input was gathered throughout the travel planning process and the Record of Decision provides a balance for the type, extent, and uses of all modes of travel.  The new Travel Management Plan will be enforced.


A variety of information and maps, known as Motorized Vehicle User Maps, will be available at no charge at Nebraska National Forest and Grasslands offices and will also be available at:  
www.fs.usda.gov/nebraska.  The Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement is also at this website address.


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