Local man lobbies to open public ATV trails on Federal land
Douglas Cooper, of Randolph County, is trying to garner support for an initiative to designate trails specifically for all-terrain vehicles on national forest property.
"Other states have set the precedence. Pennsylvania has opened up the Allegheny National Forest to certain trails for ATVs. It's a big success; it's bringing people in from out of state. Our Hatfield and McCoy trail in West Virginia is a big success. People come from all over to ride the Hatfield and McCoy trail. I think it would bring a lot of tourism to Pocahontas and Randolph county," said Cooper.
Cooper ran into complications with the project when he approached the U.S. Forest Service.
"They are concerned about erosion and that sort of thing. You don't want ATVs going up the hillside, you want designated trails," said Cooper.
Cooper has seen similar trails elsewhere in the country.
"I've been to Colorado and Utah, you stop by the Forest Service and pay $25 and you get a little sticker and put it on your ATV and you can ride the trails. That money goes to maintain the trails," said Cooper.
Cooper considers himself an outdoorsman but finds ATV riding easier physically.
"I'm a hiker and biker but I'm getting at the age right now where hiking can get a little difficult in this terrain. ATVs might be the only way I can get out in the woods," he said.
Cooper acknowledges the fact that the undertaking needs public attention.
"I'm trying to get the Forest Service to conduct public meetings and see what kind of interest there is. I can't do it by myself, it's going to take public support. Everybody I talk to is in favor of it," said Cooper.
Eric Sandeno, Recreation Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service in Elkins, agrees the idea could be a success, if done properly.
"If you had something that provided a long system, so people don't get bored with it. It would have to be big enough to bring people back, maybe with some sort of destination at the end. I'm a recreation manager, anything that generates recreation opportunities, I am for it," said Sandeno.
The Forest Service isn't ready to commit to the project without environmental impact studies.
"Since we don't have designated trails we haven't done any environmental analysis on the potential impacts. We do know we have very erosive soils, heavy rainfalls, there would have to be a lot of measures taken," said Sandeno.
Cooper disagrees. He feels the local trails he has visited would be appropriate for ATV trails.
"These gated Forest Service roads have drainage, most of them have gravel on them. You wouldn't have to worry about erosion on those trails, and they're gated so you wouldn't have vehicle traffic on them," said Cooper.
Sandeno is not opposed to the idea, but budgetary concerns hinder progress from the Forest Service end.
"Congress is doing nothing but talking about budget reductions. For us to be looking at adding something new is complicated right now. So much we're dealing with is uncertainty with our budget, it's difficult to make decisions when we're in kind of a maintenance mode," said Sandeno. "We're waiting to see what kind of proposal he [Cooper] gives us."
"There's room for all these activities if it's done right," said Cooper.