An unavoidable truth is that sometimes trails need to be closed. While everyone in the OHV community strives for more and better access for motorized recreation, some trails simply are not sustainable, were originally located incorrectly, or simply do not meet the needs of the trail system. This article is about those trails.
“You can’t close a trail in the desert.” This is something that NOHVCC staff hears quite often.
The desert environment features drastically different terrain from other less arid areas. This can make it difficult to prevent riders from encroaching on trails that are closed. In wooded environments it may be easier to prevent access at the head of the trail, and it is also easier to use natural features such as logs, underbrush or rocks to prevent or discourage riders from riding on undesignated routes. Typically, the desert environment is far more open and many of the naturally occurring features such as sagebrush are less effective at truly preventing OHVs from accessing the trail. Illegal use also makes it nearly impossible to fully rehabilitate a trail. Rehabilitation is not only good for natural resources but is also the most effective way to completely reclaim a trail.
While visiting the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area in Colorado as part of a Great Trails Workshop, NOHVCC witnessed first-hand an effective trail rehabilitation in the desert. As the pictures show the trail is not being ridden illegally and the naturally occurring sage brush in the area is starting to reclaim the route. It is important to note that there are no barriers at the start of the trail. Barriers might not only be ineffective in the desert environment, as the desert’s open nature makes it really easy for riders to simply go around, they are also unnecessary in this particular instance. Often barriers can draw more attention to a reclaimed trail that is well on its way to healing.
How has Hartman Rocks Recreation Area achieved successful trail reclamation in this particular instance where others have failed in similar circumstances? Quite simply the success started well before the actual on-the-ground work. The managers of Hartman Rocks effectively communicated with the local riding public who understands the need for this route to be taken off the system. Probably the best management tool used in this situation is that a replacement route was opened before closure of the old non-sustainable route. While this is almost always preferable, it is not always possible, yet managers should strive to provide the experience users are looking for when practicable. Also, Hartman Rocks features an abundance of similar trails that meet users’ needs, and the managers are actively seeking more and more varied riding opportunities in the Area. As the Great Trails Workshop teaches—if managers provide the experience users are looking for, they won’t go looking for them elsewhere.
Another key component to the closure is clear signing and education. The sign at the start of the old trail clearly states that the trail is closed, not only to OHVs but also to equestrians and hikers. The sign also plainly indicates that the closure is part of a restoration project and urges visitors “please do not impact restored area.” The Hartman Rocks trail crew has placed sagebrush plants in the middle of the trail to further indicate that this trail is no longer open.
While NOHVCC understands that any closure can be difficult to implement, we wanted to highlight that they are possible—even in the desert. Experiences will vary across the country, and perhaps even in the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area; however, necessary closures can be implemented. Start with clear communication, build trust and provide other opportunities and success can be achieved.
Finally, there is another tool to use. While it hasn’t yet been necessary on this particular trail in Hartman Rocks—enforcement is also an option. When a trail in any environment is closed it may be necessary to cite anyone riding illegally. At first, communication should be the tool—issue warnings, remind people of the need for the closure, and ask everyone to stay off. Ultimately, should illegal riding persist, citations may need to be written.
If you would like more information about the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area closure, or about trail closures in general, contact NOHVCC staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.