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Spring trail closure policy finds some flexibility March 20, 2012 by Scott Sandsberry




YAKIMA, Wash. — After weeks of back-and-forth with representatives of trail-use groups over its proposal to curb access to motorized trails during the wettest months of spring, the Naches Ranger District has settled on what seems to be a more malleable version.

“Flexibility. That’s the key to the whole thing,” says district spokesman Doug Jenkins.

The district on Monday announced its crews would examine weather and trail conditions each spring “to determine if restrictions are necessary on motorized trails.”

The district’s news release quoted district hydrologist Bill Garrigues “predicting” seasonal restrictions occurring between April 1 and June 1,” based on weather data on average snow melt, rainfall and storm frequency.

Naches District Ranger Irene Davidson emphasized the flexible aspect of the trail restrictions, noting trail-restriction actions would depend “upon current trail and weather conditions.”
In the event of a drier-than-usual spring, a closure might not be warranted, Jenkins said.

“We’ll be depending on the word of volunteers and our (trail crews) so we can make it work,” Jenkins said. “And I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. But if it’s like last year — when the weeks leading up to Memorial Day weekend was rain, rain, rain, roads were watching out and everything — you can bet the trails will be closed.

“Trail conditions, weather conditions, those will be the biggest factors in deciding how this thing takes place. If things dry out between now and the times these trails would normally open up, they’ll open up. If the trails are saturated to the point where you have standing water and a lot of snowmelt still coming off, they may not open up.”

Jenkins said if some lower-level motorized trail systems were “dry as a bone” while other, higher-elevation trails were still soggy, the district might open some trail systems while keeping others closed until trail conditions warranted allowing traffic.

Earl Nettnin, regional director of the Pacific Northwest Four-Wheel Drive Association, called the “flexible” aspect of the new rule “a step in the right direction.”

“We were not in favor of a hard-and-fast closure — BAM, every spring it’s closed,” Nettnin said. “Here (district officials are talking about) doing an evaluation of the trail system there and they want adopt-a-trail people and volunteers and all that, great: Get those volunteers out early to examine (trails), and then believe the input of the people that went out and did it.”

In the event of a closure, he said, “I would say the conditions had better warrant it.”

If conditions on those trails keep motorized users off them, other user groups — hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers — must keep off the trails as well.

“If a motorized trail is designated closed,” Davidson said, “it is closed to all users, motorized or not.”

The district’s decision on spring motorized trail restrictions, Nettnin said, may become moot as the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests go through their Travel Management Plan process.

“That will supersede everything,” Nettnin said. “Of course, not having seen the thing I can’t say what was written in there, but (Davidson) said they’d look for hard (trail-restriction) dates for Travel Management.

“If this is indeed true, we’ll have to go through this all over again.”

The Cle Elum Ranger District is also looking at seasonal trail closures, proposing to implement the same closure this spring they did last year. Unlike the Naches District plan, though, only motorized users will be affected.

District officials say motorcycles, four-wheel-drive vehicles and ATVs will be allowed on motorized trails only when those trails are deemed dry enough to handle the traffic and only after downfall has been removed from trails. Only “sanctioned” volunteers who have made prior arrangements with the Forest Service will be allowed on trails to assist with that seasonal “logout” process.

For updates on trail system closures and openings, go to www.fs.usda.gov/okawen and look for trail-use links to the Cle Elum and Naches districts.