As a result of my networking with U.S. Forest Service District Rangers in Virginia, I received an invitation to meet with some of their officials at Flagpole to discuss trail access and use. I would have been willing to go it alone, but thought I should invite someone solid to go with me. Charles Sikes, Middle Peninsula Jeep Assn Secretary was free, able, and willing to spend a couple of days on the trail, and I am very thankful he did. We departed Newport News at 1000 Monday and arrived at a very nice campground about 1500. We set up camp and spent the evening at our usual relaxation ... watching the fire and swapping lies.
We were scheduled to meet with USFS representatives Tuesday at 1000 so we got up there early, just after 0900. It struck me as very funny that when I spoke to the Ranger originally I was trying to arrange our meeting at Skidmore reservoir near Camp JEMO and there was always just a bit of disconnect. It took me a long time before I realized I was thinking like a Jeeper, and the Ranger was thinking like a responsible Government official ... their people were going to run up Briery Branch Road on the pavement while I was thinking no, let's go up the trail! Two hours in 4WD versus running up the pavement? No way!
So ... Tuesday morning we run up the road and pull off where the pavement ends. A fellow with a big pickup with dog kennel and one sad hound in the back is already waiting, and he asks if we are coming to attend the same meeting he is. Everet Fisher is the Real Deal, and when I asked him about after treeing the bear just how the final kill shot is delivered he tells me, "I don't know, the last bear I killed was about twenty years ago." The thrill is in the hunt, I guess, exactly like catch and release trout fishing.
Soon the official meeting participants arrive ... the Deputy administrator for Virginia Forests, a wildlife specialist from WV, a soil Specialist from Roanoke, a wildlife Biologist from the North River District, and a Field Engineer. We proceed up the trail Chuck and I enjoy watching fullsize Forest Service pickups drag tail and punch their chin spoilers getting up the access road. We stop at the first gulley washout to discuss what destruction unruly wheelers have done and how we might work to fix it. Getting back into the vehicle convoy we run up to another spot where there is a mudhole playarea that has been dug by four-wheelers. Another pow-wow, and then run a few hundred yards up the trail to a meadow where ruts are torn into the soil. We ran up afterward to yet one more spot that has actually been bermed by a dozer in the attempt to block access, yet determined wheelers had cut go-rounds to get where they wanted to be.
The over-riding feedback we kept providing to the USFS reps: There aren't *any* signs indicating where the trail is. There aren't *any* signs showing where sensitive areas are off limits. I explain to them that even with my experience running trails in Virginia I can't tell where the trail is today. How in the hell can you expect to keep people off if you don't tell them "Keep Off"?? I explain that when there is a large area of muddy ruts with no signs and no fences that it is nothing but an invitation to wheelers: "Come on in here, there's a playground just around this bend." How about just blazing the trail to show where the road is?
Chuck and I can understand their arguments about protecting the trail but we are just trying to explain the mind-set of legal, ethical wheelers. If the USFS doesn't mark and post the area, it just looks like open territory for wheeling. It was good to get these office workers out and try to point out what the wild trail looks like when they don't even bother to point out and sign the places they are trying to protect.
Overall, it was a friendly and productive meeting. As we proceed I believe I will have ample opportunity for dedicated wheelers to work with the Forest Service to mark and protect sensitive areas while still keeping open access to our common public lands. There really wasn't any adversarial feeling to this summit meeting at all. I have great hope we can work together to get the job done. One thing I think is important to remember when wheeling on public USFS land: the best primary use is for a point-to-point run through natural beauty. There really aren't *ANY* obstacles or playgrounds off our Forest Service trails. Yet.
If you want to "tear it up" go to The Cove, Rausch Creek, and Crozet if they ever get it back. Keep the National Forest for an easy ride through beautiful Virginia Countryside and keep it open.
A fully illustrated trip report is available on the MPJAI board here:http://www.mpjai.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=16450