Local Leaders Respond
BY LEANN DILBECK –
In press release issued by the U.S. National Forest Service, officials announced that a draft decision notice and final environmental assessment concerning the future of off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails and mixed use roads at Wolf Pen Gap near Mena was released. today. Mena-Oden District Ranger, Tim Oosterhous identified Alternative “I” as outlined in the Wolf Pen Gap Environmental Assessment, as the alternative he intends to select.
“This alternative leaves some existing motorized use designations for roads and trails in place, and results in some changed designations due to route relocations and decommissioning,” he said.
Currently 41.7 miles of roads and trails are available for OHV use at Wolf Pen Gap, either year-round or seasonally. Key components of Alternative I define a trail system with 39.6 miles of routes, including mixed use routes and seasonal designations. Designated routes will be open seasonally from the 2nd Friday of March each year, through Oct. 31. Two holiday periods would open the trail system to OHV use: from three days prior to Thanksgiving through two days after Thanksgiving, and from Dec. 25 through Jan. 2.
After learning of the release of the new plant, Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison, who has strongly advocated to keep Wolf Pen accessible, told The Pulse,
“It is important for Polk County that the Wolf Pen Gap trail system remains sustainable. The trail system provides recreational opportunities that benefit us economically and allows our citizens to access public lands that we have historically enjoyed. While the proposed EA alternative may not be perfect for us, we want to do everything possible to maintain water quality in our streams and rivers. We look forward to working with all of our partners on the implementation of the plan.”
Oosterhous spoke of the importance of the partnerships in developing the final plan, “We have looked at many options, discussed ideas with partners, trail riders, and community leaders, and held many community meetings on management of Wolf Pen Gap over the last four years,” said Oosterhous. “We’ve developed great partnerships and accomplished work that we’re all really proud of. We plan to continue in that same vein, working with partners, including volunteers, to provide an enjoyable and sustainable outdoor opportunity for OHV enthusiasts while protecting the valued resources in the area.”
Also instrumental in the efforts to keep Wolf Pen open has been Gar Eisele, ARCO Chair.
“We and our partners want to maintain a sustainable trail system at Wolf Pen Gap. A trail system that provides a significant economic benefit to Mena and maintains the natural beauty and water quality of the of the rivers in the Wolf Pen Gap area.”
Those valued resources include water quality in Gap Creek and Board Camp Creek, two tributaries to the Ouachita River and a number of threatened, endangered and sensitive aquatic and plant species. Monitoring the routes will be an important factor in protecting natural resources, particularly during rainy periods according to the Wet Weather Management Plan, an appendix to the Environmental Assessment. The monitoring will be conducted by Forest Service employees, with assistance from volunteers, to determine if the amount of rainfall is enough to result in damage to the maintained trails, or in increased sedimentation in nearby tributaries. If so, a temporary closure of the trail, generally short-term, will occur.
In addition to changes made to road and trail designations, a number of other actions would occur over the next 5 years in this popular area, including improvement of more than 269 stream crossings, construction of a foot trail to Hawk’s Gap overlook, installation of picnic tables at two vistas, construction of a pavilion at the North Trailhead, and obliteration and relocation of the “warm-up” trail at the West Trailhead parking lot.
Oosterhous believes his pending decision strikes the best balance between the community and trail users with the sustainability of natural resources.
The Wolf Pen Gap Project is subject to the objection process which allows individuals or entities who previously submitted timely and specific comments about the project during official public comment periods the right to object. Objections will be accepted for 45 days beginning on the first day after publication of the legal notice in the newspaper of record (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette).
For more information on the Wolf Pen Gap Project, or to learn more on how to file an objection, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/ouachita/landmanagement/projects, call 479-394-2382, or stop by the Mena Ranger District Office, 1603 Highway 71 North, Mena, AR.