Recently The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) informed the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) that an unauthorized trail has been build on Horse Ridge. Subsequently COTA put up signs at both the start and finish of the trail declaring it shut.
The situation brings up a growing national and local concern about bootleg trails. On the national scale, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is paying more attention to the elimination of all bootleg trails on public lands.
An Associated Press story from this past summer states: "The U.S Forest Service is cracking down after renegade bikers secretly cut up to 30 miles of trails in the Tahoe backcountry over the past decade.
"Agency officials said a hardcore group of bikers seeking access to steeper, more demanding terrain is to blame for bootleg trails in national forests across the country, including those in California, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Utah."
Here in Central Oregon, the building of renegade or bootleg trails hasn't been much of a problem because of the close work COTA has been doing with both the U.S.F.S. and the BLM over the past decade.
But lately, with the popularity of freeride mountain biking have come the demand for more steeper and more challenging trails. Rather than wait to get USFS or BLM approval, the bootleggers go to work.
The advent of local bootleg trails has given rise to fears that some of that cooperative work between users and the land managers will unravel.
This is especially true at Horse Ridge, where, over a period of years, a number of trails have been created and were accepted by the BLM. That agency has requested through COTA that no new trails be created there until the agency has a chance to make a detailed study of rider usage on the Ridge and how that riding impacts the terrain and wildlife.
Unfortunately, that study has been delayed because of the BLM's focus on the Cline Buttes recreation project.
Count me among those who have been impatient with the BLM as I've had my eye on creating at least two new trails at Horse Ridge. Yet I've held off and hope that sometime this year that the BLM will move ahead and consider the potential trail additions.
So I plead with other erstwhile trail builders to hold off and follow COTA's lead on new trail development in conjunction with the land managers. In the meantime, work on the trails we already have in place while lobbying for more new trails in the future.
The days of building trails on the sly and then having them reluctantly approved by the USFA or BLM are over. It's time to work to keep rider-public agency relations strong. When we work together, the land agencies have shown that they much more responsive to trail building requests.
As Mark Eller of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) noted recently: " the pirate trail builders believe they have to build them under cover because they won't get the riding experience they want if they go through channels. We're working hard to show that's not the case."
And so are conscientious Central Oregon riders.