Forest Service to implement La Sal trails plan
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Nov 07, 2013 | 1789 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Forest Service District Ranger Mike Diem approved a plan last month that aims to improve recreational opportunities for trail users in the La Sal Mountains.                                                                             Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
Forest Service District Ranger Mike Diem approved a plan last month that aims to improve recreational opportunities for trail users in the La Sal Mountains. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
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As more and more people flock to the La Sal Mountains, the number of conflicts between mountain bikers, hikers and other users has grown accordingly.

But the U.S. Forest Service is aiming to resolve those conflicts, based on feedback it received over a four-year period.

In September, Moab/Monticello District Ranger Mike Diem signed off on a decision that is designed to provide a better balance between recreational uses, while expanding the range’s network of non-motorized trails.

The process to implement that decision remained on hold until late October, as Diem and other district officials waited to see if any appeals were filed. But no one who had the standing to challenge the decision did so, which means that the district can get to work on the plan at once.

However, the fun part of the job – the trail construction phase – might not actually begin until next spring, according to Brian Murdock, the district’s recreation and trails program manager.

Diem’s action preserves about 60 miles of existing trails, and creates more than 28 miles of new trails. Seven of the new trails will be open to hikers, while another five will be built to accommodate both hikers and horseback riders. Another 12 new trails that span a combined total of 20 miles will be open to all non-motorized uses.

In the past, all non-motorized trails in the Moab district of the Manti-La Sal National Forest were open to all types of non-motorized users. But that hodgepodge system created concerns about safety.

“For example, downhill mountain bike use on narrow trails does not always mix well with uphill hiking and horseback riding,” Diem said.

Aside from the safety issue, the agency also took a closer look at the subject of increasing commercial use across the La Sals. It ultimately settled on a plan to close the La Sal Pass area to commercial shuttle traffic.

“We basically [identified] a small area of the range that doesn’t get a lot of commercial use,” Murdock said Oct. 25.

In order to protect fragile soils and wildlife, commercial use of the Burro Pass, Moonlight Meadows and the new Geyser to Burro trails will also be delayed until July 1 of each year.

While there have been past conflicts on some of those trails, Murdock said the Forest Service worked to minimize the potential for future misunderstandings by addressing rumors and concerns about the new decision head-on.

He and other officials started meeting with various stakeholders even before the agency began the formal process to reach a decision.

“Folks have been involved with this for years,” he said.

Along the way, Forest Service officials heard a wide range of opinions about the steps they should take. Murdock believes the final plan incorporates many of those ideas, as different as they were.

“I think that everybody got a piece of the pie,” he said. “There’s a good balance between users.”

Western Spirit CEO Ashley Korenblat, a former president of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, said she believes the agency did a really good job of trying to make everyone 85 percent happy.

“It was a big challenge and even though it’s a small forest, there are lots of people who care a lot about it,” she said. “I applaud the Forest Service for its effort in getting it sorted out.”

Moab resident Geoff Freethey said he personally appreciates the balanced approach that Diem came up with.

Most of the existing trails in the La Sals feature steep grades and sharp turns, making them popular among advanced mountain bikers, he said.

But the new plan will reroute some trails, he said, creating smoother grades for more intermediate users.

In the long term, Freethey, Korenblat and Murdock believe that community involvement is important to the plan’s success.

“We really want to get a lot of user groups involved so they can feel that sense of ownership,” Murdock said.

He expects that funding for the district’s trails program will drop for the foreseeable future. If that happens, it will need more and more volunteers to help keep the trails in good shape.

“Call the Forest Service or Trail Mix, and we’ll put you to work next year building some of this stuff,” he said.

Depending on the number of people who come forward to help out, Murdock believes that the trail construction phase will be a multi-year process.

For the time being, he encourages anyone who has any questions about the new trails decision to call his office at 435-259-7155.

For more information, people can also visit the district’s website at: www.fs.usda.gov/main/mantilasal/home.


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