As many of you know, the Wolfpen Gap trail system near Mena, Arkansas is a popular spot in AR for a variety of riding. The trail system has been in limbo for 2years, and it appears things are happening again. The forest service is asking for feedback. I have included a link to the local newspaper article about the trail system. I would encourage supporters to call the Forest ranger and voice their support for the trail system, and the economic impact it creates.
The U.S. Forest Service is inviting feedback on eight proposals for managing the Wolf Pen Gap off-highway vehicle trail system near Mena, but local leaders are skeptical about the Forest Service’s methods and openness to feedback.
According to a news release, the Forest Service began working on a management strategy for the popular 42-mile trail system in mid-2010, after the Ouachita National Forest issued a decision designating motor-vehicle travel routes within the 1.8 million-acre forest.
Tracy Farley, a spokesman for the national forest, said the initial decision was withdrawn after the Forest Service determined the public wasn’t sufficiently involved in its development, so Ouachita spent the past two years revisiting the plan. Several meetings, field trips and workshops were held in Mena, including “a lot of interaction, all the way through,” she said.
“When we went out with the proposed action, we anticipated no changes,” Farley said. “But then with the decision to revisit it, there were a lot of changes.”
Scientific data formed the foundation of the new slate of alternatives because sedimentation was a major concern of the Forest Service, she said.
Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison said the Wolf Pen Gap trail system is very important to the local economy.
“The University of Arkansas at Little Rock did an economic-impact study in 2010, when this came up, and it was astounding the tourism it generates, the dollars it brings in. … We need Wolf Pen Gap. We need it to be open.”
According to the study, which Ellison emailed to the Times Record, nonlocal off-highway vehicle day visitors spend an average of $50 to $75 per day, while nonlocal OHV overnight visitors spend an average of $120 to $210 per night.
If the Forest Service were to enact its 2010 proposal to close the trails at Wolf Pen Gap for 32 weeks, leaving them open for only 16 weeks, the study said Polk County could see a loss of $15,530 per overnight OHV visitor and $1,918 per day rider. If that translated into a 10 percent overall tourism loss, the total loss to the county would amount to $5.8 million, according to the study.
Ellison indicated he thought the Forest Service did not truly take public input into account over the past two years.
“They had a meeting a month or two ago, and the eight proposals out there were all by the United States Forest Service,” he said. “They went on to tell us that only two of the proposals would work. One would outright close the trails, and the other one would limit trail use so much it would effectively kill tourism.”
Ellison said area trail and all-terrain-vehicle groups have raised money and worked to enhance some of the trails to address sedimentation concerns, partly encouraged by a site visit from U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell early in the process.
“Chief Forester Tidwell was beside himself about how nice the trails were; he was talking about it like it could be a model for trail systems nationwide,” Ellison said. “So it was pretty shocking in this meeting.”
Ellison said he and some ATV clubs are reaching out to the Arkansas congressional delegation in search of common ground.
“I’m very concerned about the decision that’s going to be made. … They need to work with us more,” he said. “We would beg for more time.”
Tim Kiser, president of the Ouachita ATV Club, which has 415 members across nine states, was disgusted after attending the same meeting Ellison described.
“The last meeting, we were hoping to sit down and work out a plan. Sen. (Mark) Pryor’s office and (John) Boozman’s office were represented. … And they hand us a bunch of maps,” Kiser said. “I made the terrible mistake of acting pretty ugly. … All they did was pacify us for two years.”
Kiser said his organization had bought equipment and worked on the trails using an estimated $500,000 of money raised by ATV clubs, grants and the Forest Service. The projects and proposals included arched culverts so vehicles could go over streams, and sediment traps to keep sediment from flowing from trails into the water.
“We were not asking for the moon,” he said. “This is not just for trail enthusiasts, it’s for the local economy.”
Asked if he intends to take the Forest Service up on its invitation to provide feedback now, Kiser said, “Oh, you bet!”
The eight trail-management alternatives and their accompanying maps have been posted online at the Ouachita National Forest website, www.fs.usda.gov/ouachita
, and also can be obtained at the Mena Ranger District Office, 1603 U.S. 71 North in Mena, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The feedback period is Monday through Aug. 24.
“What we would like to do now is provide the opportunity for the public to look at the various alternatives and further participate by contacting me about the alternatives,” Mena District Ranger Tim Oosterhous stated in the release.
To discuss the plans or set up an appointment with Oosterhous, call (479) 394-2382.
According to the news release, the Forest Service will further develop an environmental assessment after the feedback period ends and later provide a 30-day notice and comment period.
Wolf Pen Gap Trail Proposals Posted For Feedback | The Times Record