Meeting notes for NFS Trails Strategy 05-09-12
2. Mapping session
3. Mapping discussion
The USFS Trails Strategy is in Phase II, which is District-level meetings attended by a core set of representatives from various user groups and organizations. There were a few new faces at the meeting last evening — they are public meetings — but for the most part, it was attended by the collaborators listed at the USFS web site. (National Forests in North Carolina – Home)
We did a quick self-introduction, and then the FS lead went over a few key points. Interestingly, one of the themes of the few “rules” we work under, is that we need to remember we’re dealing with a government entity, and their hands are tied in certain respects with regards to constraints.
2. Mapping session
With only 3-1/2 hours and several hundred miles of trails to discuss, the group then immediately went to the maps. We were asked to identify project maintenance opportunities (as opposed to “routine maintenance” or well-known problem areas), opportunities for connectors that may or may not exist, and trails that might be an opportunity to decommission in order to reduce inventory. Each attendee spent time at four maps covering the PRD, marking on the map areas for improvement.
Please note: This was obviously not a lot of time to cover the entire District. The next step is for the USFS to compile what we’ve identified in a coherent document that will lead to some decision-making opportunities. We have time to continue to add to the discussion: If you have specific trail opportunities you’d like to see addressed, please post here or PM me, mtbwnc, or driftwood, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will make sure your ideas get added. (I know some of you have entire databases of trails, conditions and suggestions — we’d love to see them!)
3. Mapping discussion
After a short break, we all came back together to discuss our notes, map by map and trail by trail. It was a good opportunity for cross-user group sharing of ideas: The combined amount of trail knowledge in the room was staggering, and hearing that hikers and mountain bikers, or equestrians and mountain bikers, shared the same concerns with the same sections of trail, was good.
It was also an opportunity to give some feedback from users on what each group enjoys in a trail experience. Having the discussion as users was good, as it allows us to better define/refine what we’d like to see out there — even if that doesn’t always follow the constraints of the USFS guidelines.
A lot of the conversation centered on connectors. This was a bit sticky — the USFS does not want to add trail inventory — but every single user, every single group, identified new trail opportunities that connected existing trails to create more and better loop experiences. Looking at some of them from other user perspectives was great — for instance, the equestrians want to see a few loops that I would have never considered, but would also be pretty cool on a bike. We walked a fine line between discussing already-existing social trails (and upgrading them to inventory trails) and completely new opportunities.
As we came to a close, Woodman and a few other folks jumped in with some pretty pointed feedback overall. While we were specifically asked to look for decommissioning opportunities, very few (two) trail closures were proposed by the users — rather, we all identified more trails, more opportunities. (Let me be clear: We were specifically asked to identify trail closure opportunities. Trail closures are definitely on the table. )
I’m not going to do Woody justice here, but basically what he put to the group was this: Rather than try to cut down on trail mileage, we should instead be exploring strategic opportunities to do the opposite. As population and use increase, closing trails will essentially shrink the pie available to us all — and that will lead to more conflict, more maintenance problems, more management problems in general. Instead, it was pointed out by a representative from NC State Parks that we should really be looking 5-10 years from now — rather than focusing all our energy on maintenance problems we can fix now, we should be more strategic about needs for the future. This is obviously easier said than done, but it can be done, and I believe the user groups are all intent on working together to make sure that happens.
Going forward, the USFS is going to compile the trail notes, and I believe the next steps are to start planning needs at the District level. Several of the user groups, including PAS, already have outside dialog going with the Districts, with regards to creating more accessible volunteer opportunities and to better prioritize and schedule maintenance. We’re also going to take the next few weeks as an opportunity to get more strategic discussions going with user groups (thanks to Jordan’s work with the USFS on a technology platform solution!) about go-forward opportunities for us all.