Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trails, Guns and ATV's

It all seemed like a pretty good idea. Establish a network of trails in a beautiful area of the Ouachita National Forest near Mena, Arkansas that would be primarily for All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) and Off-road Vehicle (ORV) use. There were very few trails in the Ouachita National Forest that were specifically designated for ATV and ORV use. I believed that having trails established specifically for ATV's would be good for ATV enthusiasts as well as the other users of the National Forest. I had been riding this area for a number of years on my mountain bike prior to it becoming an ATV Trails system and enjoyed riding the old logging roads and enjoyed the beautiful woods and the many clear creeks.

Although I did not ride ATV's, I had been involved with other similar projects, (establishing new trails) working as a volunteer to build mountain biking and hiking trails within the Ouachita National Forest. The grand opening was a great success with a large number of ATV's showing up to ride in the "Wolf Pen Gap ATV Recreation Area".

The first year for Wolf Pen Gap ATV Trails was going well with no problems, and looked to be a great success. But, as can often happen, not all issues had been thoroughly considered. Deer season was approaching and the Ranger District had not taken into consideration, the impact and the potential adverse interaction between the deer hunters and the ATV riders.

This area had been a very popular deer hunting area for decades. There were many primitive deer camps, along the creeks, and deer hunters would claim their camps days ahead of deer season. Now on this, the first day of the first year of dear season in the "Wolf Pen Gap ATV Recreation Area", there was unrest in the woods. Reports were coming into the Ranger District. ATV riders were complaining that while they were riding, they had some hunters aim their rifles at them. Deer hunters were complaining that there were ATV's buzzing all about their deer hunting area, and scaring the deer away.

After the deer season was over, the Ranger district invited deer hunters and ATV riders to attend a meeting to have an open discussion on how best to resolve this situation in the future. I did not want to miss this and as it was open to the public, I attended the meeting.

It went basically like this. The hunters made a very emotional plea, proclaiming very loudly that they have hunted in the this area all of their lives. Just like their daddy and like their daddy's daddy. The ATV riders proclaimed that there are hundreds of square miles of open forest for hunting and the Wolf Pen Gap Area represented only a fraction of a percent of the National Forest and that it should not be open for hunting. Of course the hunters felt they should have exclusive access during deer season, restricting the ATV's from this area during hunting season. My opinion at the time was that as this area had now been established as an ATV recreation area, that it should be that. In the same way that hunting is not allowed in other National Forest Recreation Areas and State Parks due to the heavy concentration of people, the same should be considered for the new ATV park.

So now it was time for the National Forest to make a decision as to how this would be handled in the future. They decided that the ATV's would be restricted during deer season. Following this ruling I took time to discuss this decision with the Ranger, and told him that I found it curious that ATV's (at that time) were allowed to ride anywhere in the National Forest unless it was specified otherwise, even during deer season. Now we have decided that the only place that the only place the ATV's cannot ride during deer season is within the "ATV Recreation Area". This seemed to be an odd decision... but his logic for this policy was that the hunters had guns. He just wanted to avoid any conflicts.

One last curiosity with this affair, was that after the hunters got their way in excluding ATV's from ATV Recreation Area, they then wished to be able to use their own ATV's in the area during deer hunting season. At least on this issue the Ranger District stood ground and stated their would be no ATV use by anyone in the Wolf Pen Gap Recreation Area during deer season.

This was many years ago, and the tensions between hunters and ATV riders have moderated.
The Wolf Pen Gap Recreation Area, now faces other challenges, but that will be discussed in a later blog.

Related Links Ouachita ATV Adventures Mena, Arkansas Ouachita National Forest Service Arkansas Game and Fish Ouachita ATV Riders Club

1 comment:

Allen said...

I want to go there. I'll make sure it's not during deer season. It's hard to go to the woods without worrying about purple paint.