Forest road closures due on May 1

2012-04-11T09:15:00Z Forest road closures due on May 1CYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
April 11, 2012 9:15 am  • 

Car campers and drivers headed to hiking and biking trails will have new rules restricting where they can drive and camp in Coconino National Forest starting May 1.

The forest is closing a little more than half its forest roads and banning cross-country motorcycle, vehicle and all-terrain vehicle use as part of a 2005 U.S. Forest Service directive to limit off-road driving in the nation's forests.

A little more than 3,000 miles of roads and some 20.5 miles of motorcycle-only trails will remain open.

It won't be obvious to motorcyclists and drivers, though, what roads are going to remain open or closed.

There won't be boulders blocking the way, or "closed" signs.

Instead, drivers will need to know where they are on a map (paper or electronic), and whether the road is open.

"Everything's going to be closed unless designated 'open' on the map," said Mike Dechter, National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for the Coconino National Forest.


The idea is that a "closed" sign could be cut down and tossed aside by someone intent on getting somewhere, whereas these plans might be more straightforward in enforcing.

Law enforcement officers plan to show people what's happening on maps and give warnings ahead of any fines or tickets, but the officers have the discretion to give tickets, too.

Coconino National Forest had 4.3 million visitors as of the most recent annual survey, but a majority of those people were just driving through.

The U.S. Forest Service directed each national forest in 2005 to restrict driving across meadows or the forests at large, saying it was damaging the forests.

As part of that, each forest had to decide what would count as a road, what would be closed, and how to handle activities like car camping, firewood gathering and elk retrieval.

The Coconino National Forest held public meetings in 2006 and repeatedly sought public comment.

Ultimately, the Coconino plans to allow camping within 300-foot corridors on either side of the road for about 600 miles of forest roads (20 percent of the roads left open), and within 30 feet of the road in most other areas.

The Cinder Lake off-roading area will remain open.


Motorcycle riders repeatedly voiced discontent with the plans, saying they would be left very little room to ride.

The Forest Service is proposing two new trails -- one near Cornville and one running from near Flagstaff's airport to Munds Park -- to address some of those complaints.

"They seem to be realizing the plan that they signed doesn't do good enough," said Brian Hawthorne, who represents a group that advocated for more vehicle access for recreation.

He also says the Forest Service is doing the right thing in closing redundant roads leading to the same points.

Firewood gatherers will have permission to drive out to cut wood, but not to look for it.

Elk hunters retrieving big game will be permitted to used motorized vehicles to retrieve elk in areas of the forest west of Lake Mary Road and northwest of the San Francisco Peaks, but not in the areas closer to Flagstaff or east of Lake Mary Road.

The plans have sparked some local controversy, with conservationists generally praising them and a former and current sheriff opposed.

Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil's office gets more complaints about all-terrain vehicles than any other issue in the summer, he said.

People call him about riders stacked two or three to an all-terrain vehicle, speeding, or cutting across private land.

He thinks that's going to increase with motorcyclists and all-terrain vehicles sharing less ground.

"I do believe they're closing too many roads and some of these roads could be converted to ATV roads or trails," Pribil said.


The Center for Biological Diversity has firmly disagreed, and so does Dechter.

He says this will be good for the forest into the future, end practices that have created 100 to 200 new miles of motorized trails on the forest each year, and set new norms.

"We're not going to be making criminals out of the average family," he said. "We're trying to provide incentives for them to do the right thing."

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at

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(24) Comments

  1. Sierra 1
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    Sierra 1 - April 19, 2012 1:29 am
    How about we get rid of the cattle grazing. As an avid hunter I see the damage they do everywhere I go. I don't particularly care for the ATVs but they do far less damage to the forest then the whats done by the cattle.
  2. Sierra 1
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    Sierra 1 - April 19, 2012 1:18 am
    First off, if the FS had just enforced the existing laws none of this would have been necessary. You have never been allowed to travel off road unless you were retrieving wild game. Second, these new rules do nothing to contain what I think is the most destructive force in our forests today, cattle. As a hunter I see how much damage they do everywhere I go. Although I don't own an ATV, and do get very annoyed with them, they don't even come close to doing the damage that the cattle do.
  3. MikeInGilbertAZ
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    MikeInGilbertAZ - April 16, 2012 11:06 am
    Nice, more environmental save the planet garbage.

    I realize off road vehicles do damage and should be controlled but a lot of these roads that are closing are roads that I could use to explore the forest in a pickup truck, and now I'm being stopped from using them.

  4. Mike G
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    Mike G - April 13, 2012 3:17 pm
    Shorthair, since citizens united, the government works for special interest groups not citizens.
  5. really
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    really - April 13, 2012 7:31 am
    Wonder how many can actually "read" a MAP? People rely on GPS for everything it seems...that will be an excuse. I wonder do they still teach basic map reading in school?
  6. gratic
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    gratic - April 12, 2012 2:52 pm
    Many seem to miss the real problems with the TMR. It is not about the OHVs. It is about the forest user now must read a map that is just lines on a page (please look online at the map)and determine what roads are open and closed. These roads will not be marked on the ground. Some major roads will now be closed. I just hope those of you who support this action, do not accidentally find yourself on a closed road and are issued a notice of violation with fines up to $5000 or 6 months in jail.
  7. just my 2cents
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    just my 2cents - April 12, 2012 2:23 pm
    michaelrmills said: "Does this change anything for single track mountain biking?"

    Not yet but they (mountain bikes) are on the sierra clubs radar, could be next!
  8. just my 2cents
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    just my 2cents - April 12, 2012 2:12 pm
    Although the Ft Valley Trails are the most family, date, and beginner friendly trails the USFS has enacted a law closing 200 miles of single track and herding us to the 20.5 of the Ft Valley system.

    We (motorized single track users) don't like it and understandably the hikers and mountain bikers don't like it. I will try to be courteous and hope for the same. And to the vandals peeling the motorcycles off of the posts it doesnt close the trails to motos, please leave them to help educate all
  9. Shorthair pointer
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    Shorthair pointer - April 12, 2012 12:29 pm
    WAKE up America. Why is the "Center for Biological Diversity" a non profit special interest lobby group now the expert advice for the National Forest? Something really smells funny about this arrangement. Talk to your politicians and let's get this takeover of our forest stopped. This government works for the people, not for special interest groups.
  10. Cyndy Cole Staff
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    Cyndy Cole - April 12, 2012 11:54 am
    michaelrmills said: "Does this change anything for single track mountain biking?"
    Hi Michael: No, this does not affect modes of transport that lack motors. -- Cyndy Cole

  11. darwind
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    darwind - April 12, 2012 10:44 am
    This is all part of the United Nations Adjenda 21 that restricts your property rights and "equalizes" the resources in the name of the environment. Do not be fooled, this is a plan to take away American property rights for "sustainability". These words are just that, WORDS. Progressive, Socialisum, Sustainability, Green. Do not be fooled this is your land, take care of it and use it. Yes there are people that abuse and trash places, those people should be punished, SPECIFICALLY! not a shotgun.
  12. catchaclue
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    catchaclue - April 12, 2012 9:22 am
    I'm amazed at how no one is looking at the real issue, the Forest Service is becoming a gate keeper of OUR LANDS. There are already laws about driving off road and mucking up the forest. In typical government fashion, instead of enforcing existing laws new laws are created! If they can't enforce the current laws, how are they going to enforce new ones? I'm afraid that within my lifetime, the only way to enjoy our forest is to go to the forest service and buy a permit.
  13. Springfield Armory
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    Springfield Armory - April 12, 2012 9:19 am
    They want to protect the pristine overgrowth so they can watch it all burn down each summer. Would you expect any other logic from a government agency?
    NO sign? NO gate? NOT closed!
  14. eb
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    eb - April 12, 2012 7:42 am
    OK, so no complaining or middle fingers to us moto riders when we are riding on the Ft. Valley trails now. As I'm sure everybody is aware, those are the only approved moto singletrack trails on the CocoNF. We'll be respectful and courteous as long as we are not greeted by the bird and flying rocks. If you don't like it I'll tell you to go hike or bike somewhere else. You won't like how that feels. Then you'll know how I feel.
  15. flagwagger
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    flagwagger - April 12, 2012 6:19 am
    For starters, Lake Mary Road runs East to West and therefore has North and South sides, so which side of the road has game retrieval restrictions? I support closing roads where actual damage is being done to the environment, but if you want to look at the real danger to our forests you need look no further than the environmentalists that have created the current level of over-forestation. How about some time and money spent on fixing that...
  16. Ovid213
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    Ovid213 - April 11, 2012 11:53 pm
    I agree that it is time for limitations on vehicular travel in the forest and have been waiting for some time for some kind of strategy to reduce the damage done by careless ATV drivers and others, but the policy of not posting signs is just plain crazy! First, it seems likely to be a source of honest misunderstanding, as not everyone is good at reading a map. Second, it does not seem at all likely to be effective. Without posted signs, the roads will only be "closed" when an officer is present.
  17. michaelrmills
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    michaelrmills - April 11, 2012 11:17 pm
    Does this change anything for single track mountain biking?
  18. mountain gal
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    mountain gal - April 11, 2012 10:48 pm
    Half the roads in our area were already closed in the past few years and now they are closing half of the remaining half. This is based on an executive order signed by Pres. Bush, who has been out of office for more than 3 years. These are public lands and no one voted for this. What happened to democracy? This half-baked plan makes people illegal without their even knowing. I worry that bad things will happen. Rednecks have guns you know, and nothing left to loose in this economy.
  19. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - April 11, 2012 10:10 pm
    Absolutely amazing. The Forest Service that we pay for with our ever increasing taxes has decided to limit OUR access to OUR public lands. It is apparently more cost effective to close roads and collect fines for infractions than to actually enforce existing laws with the present skeleton crew of officers. I moved to this place because I loved the ability to explore and experience the thousands of back roads to camp, hike, climb, and bike the untrammeled backcountry of northern Arizona. BS
  20. AlanOr
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    AlanOr - April 11, 2012 6:38 pm
    could someone please tell me how closing ROADS limits OFF ROAD ATV use? I don't own one, I ride horses and hike. Just like most of us, I've seen many ATVs wrecking open country. But taking away the secondary roads that they can legitimately ride on is just going to force them into roadless areas.

    As a horseback rider, one of the biggest problems I see on the closed two-tracks is mountain bikes. Much more likely to scare horses when they come barreling past without any warning.
  21. KinseyCougar
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    KinseyCougar - April 11, 2012 5:14 pm
    Good luck to the Forest Service on limiting tens of thousands of rednecks from off-road recreation.
  22. flagtrax
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    flagtrax - April 11, 2012 3:48 pm
    I too am both a hiker and atv rider. I agree that some abuse the forests, in fact I think the majority of forest users streach the limits. However for the forest service to say they will not post signs is like the Highway Patrol saying you must obey the speed limits, but we will not post them, it's up to the driver to know what they are. It's not easy to drive an off road vehicle with a map in your hands, especially when you're in an unfamiliar area.
  23. AndrewM
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    AndrewM - April 11, 2012 2:21 pm
    As a hiker, cyclist and off-road motorcyclist my opinion is that this is the best thing to happen in a long time. This destruction I've witnessed by off road vehicle use is shameful. Let's all start working together to correct this issue. There are literally 1,000 of miles of legal off road areas within the county we can all still use.
  24. trailsprinter
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    trailsprinter - April 11, 2012 12:21 pm
    I'm sick and tired of seeing ATVs tearing up hillsides and meadows. Maybe some of these inconsiderate, off-road ATV riders would consider putting their boots on the ground and getting some exercise instead. I'd be in favor of setting aside tracts of land as wilderness areas, closed to all vehicles, and other areas set aside for ATV and motorcycle use.

    Hopefully this new law will make a difference and be enforced.

    And by the way, I'm both an ATV rider and a hiker.
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