Forest Service begins Summer Trails project in Mineral County

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THE U.S. Forest Service began its Summer Trails project in early April, which will establish a motorized off-highway (OHV) route system across 180,000 acres between St. Regis and Lookout Pass. (Maggie Dresser/Mineral Independent)

A decade after its initial proposal, the Lolo National Forest began the Summer Trails project in early April which will establish a motorized off-highway (OHV) route system. The project will allow utility-terrain vehicles (UTV) and all-terrain vehicles (ATV) access to 180,000 acres between St. Regis and Lookout Pass from June 15 to Sept. 1. It will also add existing non-motor-authorized trails to the system and construct new trail segments, authorizing 35 new miles to OHV trails. The U.S. Forest Service began planning for this project in 2009 after motorized recreationalists voiced desires for a more extensive trail system. But the Forest Service placed it on hold due to lack of funding and higher priorities. “In the last 10 years there’s been a lot of delay,” Recreation and Range staffer Heather Berman said. “It kept getting pushed because of fire salvage from fires in 2017.” The Forest Service initiated this project in response to public demand. OHV use is a fast-growing outdoor activity and according to a national survey, one in five Americans age 16 and older participated in OHV recreation. OHV registrations increased 300 percent from 200 to 2014, according to Montana State Parks. Unauthorized OHV use has also prompted the Forest Service to create authorized trails. In the last 10 years, officials closed and rehabilitated approximately four miles of unauthorized routes within the project area. Berman says the public creates their own trails before the Forest Service can build them properly. “No matter what we do to stop it, it’s gonna happen,” Berman said. Public comments and concerns included:

Elk habitat

Many comments included the potential side effects on elk security, hunter conflicts, increased disturbance and calving disruptions. These issues were addressed by utilizing the existing road system where disturbance already exists, remedying existing gate closure breaches, avoiding calving areas and limiting the OHV season to the summer. The OHV season would begin on June 15 to avoid disruption with calving season which occurs in May and June and would end on Sept. 1 to avoid a conflict with archery and rifle season. The seasonal limitations of Summer Trails does not create conflict with OHV users. “A majority of people want hunting,” Berman said.

Aquatics and Soils

Route design avoiding tight radius curves and steep slopes encourage soil movement. The seasonal timeframe limits use to the dry season. Stream crossing structures would be sized appropriately to meet or exceed natural bank full channel widths. Stream channel work conducted during dry conditions. OHV trail construction would occur when soil is dry and include appropriate drainage.

Noxious weeds

Concerns of noxious weed spread and introduction. Herbicide treatment of existing weeds and new population treatment as they are discovered. Clean construction equipment to remove weed seeds prior to entry.

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