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Originally published: 2013-02-15 12:37:14
Last modified: 2013-02-15 12:38:19

Trail report completed for Pisgah, Nantahala forests

by Anna Oakes

The U.S. Forest Service National Forests of North Carolina on Wednesday unveiled a new Non-motorized Trail Strategy report for the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.

The Forest Service began developing the Trail Strategy in 2010 to analyze existing trails and complexes identified by trail users, evaluate current and predicted needs on these trails and create a coordinated approach to managing them sustainably.

"While no decisions on specific trails are being made at this time, the report will serve as a guide for future trail management in the two national forests," the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement Wednesday.

The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests are among the most visited in the nation, with an estimated 4.6 million visits annually, according to the report. Of those visitors, about 73 percent participate in hiking, bicycling or horseback riding, and an estimated 48 percent come to the national forests with non-motorized trail recreation as their primary reason for visiting.

Pisgah National Forest's Grandfather Ranger District -- the portion of the forest closest to Watauga County -- includes areas around Brown Mountain, Linville Gorge, Wilson Creek, Boone Fork and the Globe.

The report outlines a number of challenges for the two national forests.

"Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests have far more trail miles than can be maintained with current funding and volunteer programs. Yet every year the Forest Service receives numerous requests for additional trails," the report states.

Existing trails tend to be randomly placed, lack overall design and necessary support facilities and do not hold up to the capacity requirements of either the trail users or the modes of travel, the report said. Some current trail designs do not meet user needs, are creating major erosion issues and are causing environmental damage, it added.

The Trail Strategy establishes seven primary goals:

Identify a sustainable trail system providing a range of high quality recreation experiences for each use-type; emphasize a quality experience over quantity of trail miles.

Develop a working definition of sustainable trails and a process for evaluating sustainability of existing trails and user requests for new trails.

Explore opportunities to connect Forest Service system trails with those on adjacent public lands, such as county greenways, state parks and national parks.

Recruit, organize, train and empower volunteer groups to provide increased maintenance and support to the Forest Service trails program in an efficient and integrated manner; especially on districts currently lacking sufficient support.

Develop a means of continuing the collaborative process with opportunities for feedback, information exchange and accomplishment reporting.

Update the agency trails databases, identify missing data and collect information on trail location and condition.

Provide improved trail information at trailhead kiosks, district offices, in map publications and through the internet; for user convenience, resource protection and a reduction of unmanaged recreation on non-system trails.

Boone Area Cyclists were among many collaborators on the Trail Strategy. Several BAC members worked with forest rangers to become chainsaw certified in 2010.

"We are most interested in maintaining the trails that already exist and being open to new trail opportunities if they arise," said BAC President Ken Johnson. "We have volunteered hours to help maintain existing trails in the forest and hope to continue to help in the future."

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