Recreation Management Update on Flagstaff Public Lands
Each year people come in larger numbers to recreate on public lands surrounding Flagstaff. Recreation activities are good and necessary. However, our public lands are already at an unrealistic operating capacity. Because of this, the public lands around Flagstaff need a much greater focus on sustainable recreation management.
The Sierra Club Plateau Group located in Flagstaff, AZ is working with The Coconino National Forest Flagstaff District to develop an overall recreation management plan in way of providing resources to both monitor trails and related areas, and gathering crucial visitor data. This will allow the placement of appropriate and much-needed navigational and informational signage, as well as enable real enforcement of forest travel rules. Otherwise, the increasing destruction will continue unabated.
Though most forest visitors are respectful and compliant with forest rules and regulations, there are naturally some offenders… Unfortunately, the sheer number of visitors creates enough offenders to drastically damage and even destroy an ever-increasing amount of National Forest lands including important wildlife habitats. One might say some people are methodically destroying the very experience they come here for!
One such area is Kelly Motorized Trails, surrounding Mountainaire and bordered by Munds Park, I-17, and Lake Mary Road. This is a designated motorized recreation area suffering from a general lack of enforcement resources and proper recreational management.
A brief background… 3 years ago or so the Coconino National Forest (CNF) began scoping about 90 miles of new motorized trails, mostly which pretty much surround Mountainaire and also travel south and wrap around Munds Park. Though CNF did go through the typical public comment periods, NONE of the residents of that area seemed properly-informed of the process, and construction began a couple years ago and is now close to completion. I started riding my mountain bike out there at that time and started documenting negative impacts, identifying illegal “social” trails and also where various signage was necessary.
As Alicyn Gitlin of the Sierra Club predicted, the area by Mountainaire is now inundated with motorized traffic and increasing exponentially, and, mostly unregulated; There is little signage and zero enforcement. The locals are now complaining that on weekends especially, they don’t even want to walk out their doors and try to enjoy the area due to so much speeding motorized traffic, some of which is unruly. This unregulated traffic is a result of riders using common roads and trails to connect to existing and new trails, as well as illegal social trails in the immediate area. These common roads allow much greater speeds than trails do.
A Mountainaire resident approached the Sierra Club asking if we could help, being he was aware we had some presence out there. So, following a recent meeting between the Mountainaire resident, CNF and myself, the following is what the Coconino National Forest has agreed to based on my suggestions:
• Before years end, I (The Sierra Club) will identify all major entry points into the new trail areas bordering Mountainaire and large signs will be installed requiring motorized users to be aware and respectful of multi-use areas, especially close to residential areas. They will also warn of prosecution of offenses. These signs are targeted more to local users but to all of course.
• No later than memorial day 2016 I will have identified all illegal trails starting right outside Mountainaire. A CNF hydrologist has already identified other road closures in the area to prevent serious erosion, and the slash from local thinning efforts will be used to block the illegal trails I find, along with the placement of no entry signs with enforcement warnings. Signs will go up possibly before the trails are physically blocked. Just blocking these trails should reduce the amount of motorized intrusion so close to “home”, and hopefully encourage better overall trail compliance. Hopefully speed limit signs will be approved as well.
• Starting memorial day and every weekend until labor day, volunteer-attended visitor greeting/educational stations will be placed at major entries into the entire Kelly trail system area (probably 4-5 such stations) where visitors will be given brochures, a brief questionnaire, maps, Etc. These will target the hordes of people from outside the Flagstaff area coming up I-17 and I-40.
• On holiday weekends, some actual law enforcement will be visible to visitors. Any areas deemed high density will also have cameras installed. I cannot stress the importance of effective law enforcement enough. No matter what steps are taken, if offenders are not caught and prosecuted, our public lands remain a “free-for-all”.
Early next year, and as a local Sierra Club Executive Committee member, I’m planning a general meeting where CNF and myself will present our long-term plan and goals to the public as well as appropriate local recreational groups. We will then start placing a greater focus on recruiting and training volunteers. As part of that event, our similar Elden/Dry Lakes plan will be presented as well. I’m very excited the Sierra Club can be partnering with the CNF in this manner.
If you are interested in getting outside as a forest monitor or visitor greeting education person and would like more information, please contact me, Rick Resnick at: firstname.lastname@example.org.