Notice the link has been added to the top of every page for the Trails Coalition of Texas Website. Please visit this page often for updates and information regarding Trail Maintenance and upcoming events.
As we move closer to Round 1 & 2 of the 2016-2017 TSCEC at Brunes Mill hosted by you and me, I’m sure you’re wondering what’s going on with the Sam Houston National Forest. Currently, we are working alongside the Old Dudes On Dirt Bikes (ODODB), being led by the Trails Coalition of Texas to begin the process of bringing our trails back to rideable condition. As many of you have understandably taken a step back from the SHNF with a defeatist attitude, TRH excitedly informs you that we have taken the initial steps to begin the process of making the trails better than they have ever been. With that statement, you’re probably wondering why they need to be at that level to get them opened back up. As we’ve mentioned before, remember that the reason we’re in this situation is erosion. Erosion of the trails has always been a problem in our geographical location, but not on the scale we’ve seen recently. The damage we’ve seen in the past has not been enough to initiate a semi-permanent closure of the trails, until now. The atypical amount of rainfall we’ve seen has caused the Forest Service to close the trails until further notice. As you well know, we own quite a few miles of trail and the Forest Service cannot repair the damage by itself, yet it is the governing authority that deems the trails unsafe and “unridable.” Yes, many of you look at erosion as the natural progression of the land, and see a fun obstacle in these areas that some deem dangerous, but the fact of the matter is that you’re not the only one riding the trails, and they must cater to all rider levels.
How do we get our trails back? As said before, we’re in a situation where weather has caused erosion like we’ve never seen before, and rather than put a band-aid on the problem, only to be susceptible to another “attack,” we are being asked to assist in taking preventative measures to ensure damage on this scale either does not happen again, or will be easily repairable if it does. In effort to keep this message brief and not getting too technical, I will simply say that our efforts are aimed towards harvesting sedimentation, meaning collecting dirt and putting it back, or using it to fill in the areas where use of the trails has caused erosion. We simply need to leave a light footprint on the land. As of now, we have all failed to do so (including the Forest Service).
An important fact to remember about all this is that the Forest Service has the means and methods to repair our trails, but currently lacks the manpower and following. “Following” is the key word. The Forest Service needs to see that there is a substantial desire to use their resources to help us help them. Our interest in maintaining the trails needs to match or exceed our interest in riding the trails. We own the trails and it is our responsibility to step up and ensure they remain open. We are not at the mercy of the Forest Service. We are at the mercy of our own ability to remain interested and responsible.
As you well know, there is currently no motorized access to the trail system. Our first step was to simply address the problems, which at this point we’ve done. A few TRH Members spent a couple weekends hiking through the trails, inventorying the problem areas. With the help of ODODB, we’ve not only photographed the problem areas, but provided GPS coordinates to each location that needs attention. TRH covered the Lake Loop Trail and ODODB has inventoried the rest, including the West Side. Charlie Bledsoe with ODODB has assembled the data and provided the Trails Coalition with a complete map showing all the eroded areas and exactly what needs to be done to repair them. In addition, efforts have been made to being cleaning up and improving the trail heads. Your President, Lynn Bailey spent a day cleaning up the Eastside Trailhead, and he did an excellent job within a few hours.
For those that did not attend the meeting this past Saturday, it was a huge success in our opinion. The Forest Service was present, along with all elements of the Multi Use Trails, including hikers, bicyclers, and equestrians. The truly exciting part was that the motorized element was the majority presence. We had the most people present out of all the elements. This did not go unnoticed. But the real question is, what did we learn, and what did we accomplish? The Forest Service is now going to allow access to the trails via motorized equipment. That being said, use of motorized equipment must be scheduled with the Sam Houston Trails Coalition. The Trail Riders of Houston has adopted the East Side Trail Head. It is now our duty to keep it maintained. This is not a hard task, and can be accomplished with little effort. As said before, please use your communication channels for further information. Secondly, we are working towards gaining access to use equipment purchased by the National Forest. Certifications is what we need, and in all honesty, this doesn’t come easy but bottom line, it is achievable. We simply need to continue the momentum. Earlier, I spoke about contacting the Sam Houston Trails Coalition. Their website is always available. Go on the website, research trail maintenance, and log your hours. The key area we need to concentrate on is Erosion Prevention and Management. Read about drain dips, repairing erosion, and whatever else they have posted. The SHTC spends a great deal of time providing this information, but it’s on us to actually read it. The most important part of showing up to help, is being versed and knowing WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND HOW YOU’RE DOING IT. Learn the vocabulary. Educate yourself and most importantly, log your hours. How do you do this? The website is the key. All the information is there, you just have to read. Why is it important to log hours? This helps the SHTC obtain funding to support our hobby. Beyond the cost of your motorcycle, gear, and maintenance, is the cost of keeping up the trail system we enjoy. Funding helps the Forest Service provide the equipment and services to keep us on the seat, but it starts with YOU. Same as riding, you’ll be more successful in the attack position, but more likely to biff if in the defensive. Let’s get us all back in the saddle sooner than later. Please get involved if you aren’t and stay involved if you are.
As you all probably know, the multi-use trails in the Sam Houston National Forest have been closed and will remain closed until further notice. With TRH lacking a lease property, this leaves us with little to no options for unloading a bike and having a full day's worth of trail to ride. So what do we do? With the hunt for insurance still in the works before we can get the 1100 property back open, which generally requires little work to make rideable should that day come, our focus needs to shift to getting the trails at the SHNF back open. It can only happen if YOU act.
To give a little history on how we got to where we are, we’ll attempt to bring you current. The Sam Houston National Forest used to be an ocean many years ago, and the surface is made of silt, or what we call "sand," followed by a laundry list of sedimentation layers. So the biggest problem it faces, or rather we face, is erosion, which has gone into overdrive due to the large amount of rainfall we've received over the past few months. I've been riding out there since only about 2009, but I can honestly say I've never seen anything like this. The ground has fallen out below root systems, and even getting a four wheeler over these areas can be hazardous. No big deal, right? Just reroute the trail. Well, it's not that easy. The trails we ride basically create little creek bottoms, and so with heavy rainfall, causes those trails to erode more than the land surrounding them. It would make sense to just make a little “cut-around” and go on like nothing happened, right? Not so fast. A simple cut around will only cause erosion in another area 5 foot from the original problem. So we've really just put a band-aid on the actual problem by creating an erosion pitfall somewhere else within the footprint of land we use. How we fix this will be discussed, and we will get heavier into these technical details of how to repair trail later, but for now, I digress. The mentality we take in approach to this problem is more important.
So, why are we in the situation we're in? The forest service looks at equestrians and motorized as having the most impact to the forest, compared to hikers and cyclers, and rightfully so. Let's face it, we are. The Forest Rangers monitor and facilitate repairs to the trail system, but cannot themselves alone fix the problems we face. I say "we," because "we" are the people that use the trails and "we" are the people responsible for them, and there are multiple organizations that have facilitated work days to repair and improve the trail systems. Obviously, without "we," the Forest Service cannot maintain this trail system, and bottom line, they don't need to. They need the help of regular attendees (you and me), to put in the labor to combat the hazards that cause them to close the trail system. So let's just have a big workday like we normally do, and go out, fix the problems, and get the trails back open, right? Again, not so fast. This is a noble approach and The Forest Service appreciates the work we do, but they also look critically at WHAT and HOW we do when we have work days. Historically, we have a work day, and we go out and hack brush for a few hours, then we mount up and go have fun for the afternoon. Makes sense to get some seat time out of going and doing manual labor for a few hours, right? I completely agree. Unfortunately, those days are over. The powers that be in the forest have seen this all to often, while the trails are officially closed, and we're not supposed to be riding recreationally. But the sentiment is that if “...I go out and work in the forest, I should get a special pass to ride the same day.” Again, it makes sense, and a large portion of you may have no idea what I'm talking about, or say "I've never done that," but the truth is, others have, and it reflects on all of us as a community. For example, if you're riding a dirt bike, you are associated with the other guy on a dirt bike riding down the road unplated. This is just the way things are, but we combat that by being as tight-knit as possible and informative as possible to the others in this "community.” We ALL need to heed the warnings of the Ranger Service and the people heavily involved with the forest. Well, right now, their warnings are serious. Before these trails can open back up, plenty needs to be done, and it must be done correctly and in proper fashion. The sentiment of the “community” needs to change. The only way this can go our way, is if we play ball and do things the way the Forest Service wants them done, and I can tell you, playing this game will go a long way with them.
Believe it or not, The National Forest does care. It’s their job to care. Historically they afford us knowledge and the tools to be successful. This is not a battle of “them vs. us,” and you must know and understand this. They even noted this in the press release in the recent closure. I would suggest this closure hurt the District Ranger as much as the motorized community but for different reasons. They would say they failed in providing the correct path to motorized to manage the damage and repair despite the amount of rain. Additionally, further pain would be expressed in allowing other elements access. They’re not playing favorites, but like we stated before, other elements don't have safety issue thresholds as high as motorized. The Forest Service has tried for years but we are “hard-headed” and have not worked as united as the other elements. This is the key. The Forest Rangers are unaffected by the trails closing, meaning they will still have a job whether the multi-use trails remain open or closed. What makes them want to help us help ourselves is to simply see that we care about the trails we use as much as they do. So how do we show that? In this trying time for the trails, it’s imperative that no motorized vehicles be used to access the trails, even for work. Bikes, quads, UTVs; you must leave them at home. It's best to not even bring them to the forest. If you're going out to help, leave the toys at home. Unless express permission is received from the Forest Service or the Trails Coalition, leave motorized vehicles at home.
In the same breath, I'm going to urge you to come out and help when you can. TRH will have work days, but also the ODODB (Old Dudes On Dirt Bikes) will have work days with organized pushes to accomplish a certain task. The Trails Coalition is our liaison between us and the Forest Service so we have direction on what and how to accomplish what we need to. This is accomplished by having our motorized representative represent us with the Forest Service. Ed Ponikvar is our motorized representative but he is not going to dictate or direct volunteers. He is an effective translation of how to be in compliance and how to operate safely and without wasted effort. Often we may not like what is being said or what is necessary but Ed knows the requirement and if a process can be accelerated he will get that process reviewed and approved. Ed Ponikvar is also the (SHTC President) he was unanimously voted by the hiking, cycle and equine community to represent the Coalition at a state and national level. He has expressed many times how important it is that we simply show attendance and log the hours if nothing else. Soon, we'll be releasing a ton of information on what and how exactly needs to be done to get us all moving in the right direction. The most important thing at this time, is that you know their website address, which I will include at the bottom of this communique. This is where you can join for a small fee (if you like) and log your work hours. So far as I know, this is the most important thing. Attendance goes a long way in convincing the Forest Service that we care. But remember, the attendance must be helpful, and not counterproductive. Like I said before, leave the toys at home. At this point, even being seen in the forest with a bike or quad in the back of the truck is bad for our cause.
If you're new to working in the forest, you may be asking yourself, "what can I do?" Images are powerful. Review your forest compared to others. Although we don’t own it, act as if you did. If it needs mowed, mow it. If the gate if broken, fix it. Paint peeling, trash, whatever needs done let's do it.It’s extremely important that we all get out of this “demise mentality,” come together, and do what needs to be done. The future of our trails depends solely on us. At this point, we determine what happens next. I implore you to get involved and start with communication. If you’re unsure of something, ask. We need the feedback, so we know where everybody stands. This is how we know what and how to disseminate information so everybody is informed. More information will be forthcoming. Please monitor your email and social media.