Trailing away By ARRISSIA OWEN Reporter Big Bear Grizzly | 0 comments
The Big Bear Ranger Station’s Adopt-A-Trail program rocks. With nearly 4,000 members, the volunteer-fueled trail maintenance program through the U.S. Forest Service now serves as a model for the entire nation’s trail adoption programs.
“And that’s pretty cool,” says Greg Hoffman, the San Bernardino National Forest’s Off-Highway Vehicle Programs manager. He started the program in 1995 with three four-wheel-drive clubs. Fundraising for the program now occurs through the nonprofit San Bernardino National Forest Friends.
The Forest Service’s shrinking budget offers no money for maintenance, Hoffman says. But if people are breaking down on the unmaintained trails because of hazards, the Forest Service remains vulnerable to litigation. It makes sense for the Forest Service to aide volunteers however possible, Hoffman says. Public trails fall under the California Vehicle Code.
The program started when employees of the Forest Service’s recreation office began stopping various off-road clubs on the trails and asked if they wanted to help. Nearly every group Hoffman ever approached obliged.
Clubs range from off-road vehicle enthusiasts, snowmobilers, dual-sport motorcycle groups, the Marine Corps, the Big Bear Valley Historical Society and more. Hoffman would like to see hunters, rock climbers, geocachers, hikers, campers and fishermen get involved as well—anyone who enjoys recreating on the forest.
The U.S. Forest Service also offers off-road vehicles and equipment to groups dedicated to forest stewardship if needed. Currently, 46 clubs maintain 87 level-two routes that make up about 300 miles of the San Bernardino National Forest. Approximately 900 trails need maintenance.
Volunteers work to clear brush, fell and remove dead or damaged trees, pick up tons of trash, keep ponds filled so tires don’t stir up sediment and affect water sources, and more.
“When you go out there and work your tail off, you see the results of what you’ve done on the trail and it feels good,” says Danny Bogner, a member of the So Cal Broncos club. He is certified to operate heavy equipment and chainsaws and has logged thousands of hours helping clear trails.
Recently, Bogner received an email about one tree down in Polique Canyon. Ten trees removed later, he and the other volunteers got the trail open again. His motivation to contribute so many hard labor hours is his love for the forest, he says. “We take a lot of pride in it.”
The volunteers also help educate off-highway vehicle users who don’t treat the forest with so much respect, Bogner says, handing out educational materials and a little one-on-one encouragement to tread lightly.
The fewer encumbrances on the trails, the less likely recreationists will veer from the designated road and create further damage, Hoffman says. “The temptation is to find a way around it and keep going,” he says. Sometimes volunteers even put out abandoned campfires in the forest, which could otherwise lead to disaster.
Hoffman surveys adopted trails with program members. A maintenance plan is created and work dates scheduled. If the work is more than the volunteers can handle—like a huge boulder or tree—the Forest Service helps out. There are designated volunteers certified to operate heavy equipment like bull dozers and front loaders.
Each year the groups compete for the Conservation Award, given to the one that completes the most hours. There are five clubs currently vying for first place: My Jeep Rocks, NAXJA, Lost Jeeps So Cal, Inland Empire 4 Wheelers and Bear Valley 4x4.
All work is done in the most environmentally-friendly way possible, Hoffman says. “Everything we do we try to care for the forest,” he says. Forest restoration is a big part of the process.
“They take so much ownership when they see a breach, they get very upset,” Hoffman says about the volunteers that find intentionally-damaged trails. “They try to make the landscape look like it did before—they try to paint a mosaic so that the linear feature is erased to make it less tempting.”
Adopt-A-Trail recently celebrated another milestone, releasing its first newsletter, The Adopt-A-Trail Trail Times. The publication helps communicate with all the program’s volunteers.
The newsletter offers helpful tips, like hi-lift jack safety, features on adopted trails and educational tips. For more information about Adopt-A-Trail, visit www.sbnf-adopt-a-trail.com.
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