CoTrails Makes Strides in Forest-wide Trails Assessment
The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests in Georgia receive 2.2 million visitors each year, and their main activity is use of the 850 miles of designated system trails. Hikers, cyclists, hunters, anglers, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and equestrians are among those who use national forest trails…and care about the future of them.
In 2011, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest embarked on a unique collaborative effort to bring these trail users together to help identify and maintain a diverse, quality trail system on Georgia’s national forests. By working together with all trail users, the Forest Service created an opportunity to seek new ways to deal with the ever-increasing use of trails, public demand for more trails, limited agency resources to properly maintain existing trails and potential competition among different trail users.
The Forest Service first began the Collaborative Trails Initiative, or “CoTrails,” by hosting a series of meetings in forest communities. Hundreds of citizens came together to discuss how all trail users could work together and with the Forest Service to address shared concerns and find solutions. Dedicated volunteers coalesced to develop a ground-breaking strategic plan, launched in January, 2012.
The first objective of the plan was realized in June, 2012, with the completion of a professional assessment of more than 200 miles of trails across Georgia’s national forests. This assessment, conducted under contract with the Forest Service by Applied Trails Research LLC and partially funded through Georgia ForestWatch with a grant from the R.H. Dobbs, Jr. Foundation, will serve as a resource for future planning. The recommendations included in the assessment report are not proposed actions, but they may help inform future decisions. Using the professional assessment along with other information, CoTrails and the Forest Service will work together to determine priorities, seek new funding and establish volunteer resources that may lead to implementation of some of the recommendations. The public will have the opportunity to review and comment on proposed actions before decisions are made.
The Forest-Wide Collaborative Trails Assessment for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests (Jan - May 2012) is divided into five documents based upon trails within each of the forest’s four Ranger Districts. These may be viewed in pdf format by clicking on each. (Need a little orientation on Ranger District boundaries?)
And now CoTrails volunteers are stepping up to inventory and evaluate another 250 miles of national forest trails that have not yet been assessed. A series of trainings, demonstrations and workshops offered through CoTrails have helped prepare them for this exciting task. Additional training, tools and coordination are available, and there’s plenty of room for more volunteers to participate.
Meanwhile, CoTrails is also building a comprehensive volunteer trail maintenance training program to tackle neglected trails and reinforce existing maintenance efforts. Trail users who care about the future of trails in the national forest are needed to make this a success.
The far-reaching influence of this effort will benefit more than just trail users by offering a more satisfying recreation experience. It will also protect watersheds, improve forest health, contribute to local and regional economies that depend on forest-related recreation, and improve quality of life for generations to come. Join this effort by volunteering with CoTrails. Visit the CoTrails volunteer website at www.CoTrails.org for more information and upcoming events.
Trails don’t take care of themselves…CoTrails volunteers do!
Volunteers Bob Crowl of the Chattahoochee Trail Horse Association (CTHA) and David Muse of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) work side-by-side to deberm a trail in the Jake and Bull Mountain trail system on National Trails Day, June 2, 2012.
“Practically stated, the future of the trails in the Forest lies as much in the hands of the public as it does the Forest Service. This dynamic is likely to develop in many other Forests over the next decade. Budgets, populations, and a relative lack of action have brought the situation to the tipping point in the Chattahoochee-Oconee earlier. That may not be a hindrance but rather an opportunity to develop precedent-setting levels of collaboration and support that should result in huge success.”
~ An excerpt from the ‘Forest-wide Collaborative Trails Assessment for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests,’ January – May, 2012, by Applied Trails Research LLC