Good Things Do Happen!
The Allegheny National Forest (ANF) is in the Revision Stage of their Long Range Plan. Because the land is public (tax supported land) they must have a written, published plan on how they will manage the 513,000 acres of the ANF.
These revision plans were open for public comment and there were public meetings several times and places throughout the process where individuals could learn about the plan and participate and have input in the process.
As demands on the natural resources increase these plans must be rewritten periodically to protect the resources. Protection of the resources does not mean limiting use but using the land responsibly. Without help maintaining equestrian trails and learning to Ride Smarter, we will lose access. The plan, which is open for public comment, created an outcry in the summer of 2005 when it was revealed horse access would be limited to about 12% of the forest. The 12% was distributed across three areas referred to as Equestrian Use Area (EUA's) and would limit riding to designated trails in those areas only.
The ANF has had an organized volunteer effort from the ATV, snowmobile and hiking groups who offer help almost monthly to protect their access. About ten years ago a group of horse folks did meet with the ANF staff and said they would help them. As time went by the equestrians' enthusiasm waned and only a few individuals were active. It appeared to the forest that the horse folks just didn't care. In short the horse folks have fallen short and in some areas of the forest have been off the radar completely.
With budget cuts and the added expense of natural disasters like Katrina, forest fires, floods and tornados, both domestic and foreign, there is a tremendous strain on the federal government. Funding for recreational management needs will not be a top priority.
Without organized equestrian groups to help maintain trails and facilities, as other user groups do, the ANF has no choice but to curtail access in order to manage the land within the environmental laws and regulations under which they are bound.
At the end of July 2005, there was a spirited meeting with accounts of 100 people attending. This was the catalyst for the formation of an equestrian group, the Allegheny National Forest - Equine Advisory Committee, ANF-EAC. Over the following months the committee had met many times and has met with the ANF forest plan writing staff and recreational personnel to see what could be done to stay the closure of 88% of the Forest. The ANF-EAC's main focus was to keep access to the forest for open riding (not on designated trails). It also became apparent that there are some heavily used areas that had erosion, some sensitive areas protected by Federal Regulations were being impacted as well as safety issues that must be dealt with if trails and riding were going to continue.
The bottom line is the ANF staff needs help with trails, and equestrians who want to continue to open ride outside the heavily used areas will also need to get involved. A handful of people will not be able to keep the ANF open for equestrian use.
Some folks taking access to the ANF very seriously are starting to pull together One-Day Trail Stewardship Workshops across the ANF area to help equestrians get involved.
A Three-Day Trail Stewardship Workshop was conducted at Marienville, May 4-6, which included four ANF personnel participants. Eighteen volunteers who are now Trail Stewardship Coordinators, (TSC's) who ride different places on the ANF attend so they can work directly with those ANF folks and help coordinate efforts across the forest system. The following weekend, May 13-14, a work weekend was held at Kelly Pines to work on the trail out the back of the camp and began work on the first designated equestrian trail on the ANF. This work on the Spring Creek Water Shed is vital to the area so equestrians will be permitted to continue to ride in the During Area. This was the first opportunity for the equestrian users of the forest to interact with the forest service personnel and show them that we are serious about helping them.
Several One-Day Workshops were conducted to create trained volunteers who the TSC's can call upon to help get the trails opened and maintained. The turn out at subsequent work days has been disappointing for one of the coordinators who is continuing the work started in May.
The revision of the long range plan is not approved yet and the lack of response for the help needed on these sections of trails has also been noted by the Allegheny National Forest Staff. Many people turned out to protest the draft plan and many have attended the Trail Stewardship Workshops but if the enthusiasm does not continue and the equestrians do not give a few days a year to work on the trails as the other user groups do, and keep projects going forward all the efforts to this point will not win the prize.
If you know any one who rides in the ANF, please give them a call and pass on this information. Also let us know who they are and we will inform them of the one-day trainings coming up. As more people come forward more One-Day Workshops will be organized in different areas.
For upcoming events and workshops, visit our Events page. If you don't see any in your area and you would like to help organize a Workshop or a public meeting we can help, please contact us.
The DCNR - State Forest & State Parks must also go through a similar long range planning process as the National Forest to produce a management document regarding their land. They too have a lot of horse impact and not much in the way of trained trail help. We know it is hard in some areas to begin working with the State Forest or Park, but if you need a hand making a contact please let us know and we will give it a shot. Budget cuts are a big concern for all agencies and we just got another call this week for help in the southeast. Educated volunteers are the best protection to equestrian access of public land. The two Trail Stewardship Workshops in State College this coming summer will be July 23, 24 & 25, and July 26, 27 & 28, 2007. At the completion of the training participants are considered Trail Stewardship Coordinators (TSC).
The Game Commission Progress is being made with the Game Commission. In November 2004, the commission created a new position, a Recreational Planner, to build an improved process to allow for some secondary use of the game lands. Although the person chosen for the position has been working on the issue, progress has been slow due to other duties. We have been meeting with him periodically; he is now making good progress and hopes to have a working mechanism completed by the end of 2006. Any secondary use must not conflict with the primary use of the game lands which is Protecting conserving and managing the diversity of wild birds and mammals and their habitats; provide wildlife related education, services and recreational opportunities for consumptive and non consumptive use of wildlife, and maintaining and promoting Pennsylvania's hunting and trapping heritage. When the improved process is completed there will be regional meeting with Three-Day Trained Trail Stewardship Coordinators/One-Day Trained volunteers, to go over these procedures. The Game Commission does not have funding for recreational trails, so those who want access to the land may need to apply through a Three-Day Trained Trail Stewardship Coordinator, and have a One-Day Trained Stewardship Group to maintain the new routes they apply for.
We will be scheduling packing trainings again for 2007 -- one in the western end of the state at our home the first part of June and one in the eastern part of the state in October. These clinics are limited to ten so if you would like to be put on the contact list please contact us now. Dates will appear on the Events button on the web site when dates are finalized.
If you have questions about the issues or workshops please contact us at email@example.com or call 814-379-3759.
Help the PEC help you make Pennsylvania a Horse Friendly State.
Bud Wills, State Trail Chair
Gwen Wills, Trail Stewardship Program Director
PEC Trail Contacts
State Trail Chair:
235 Mule Lane
Summerville, Pa 15864
2058 South Forge Road
Palmyra, Pa. 17078