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Plans call for removing some trails, adding others

ASHLAND – As many as nine miles of new trails would be added while nearly 10 miles would be decommissioned under an environmental assessment on the Forest Service’s proposed Ashland Trails Project.

Out for public review, the assessment comes after four years of efforts by the agency’s Siskiyou Mountain District with collaboration from user groups and the public. A 30-day comment period ends Jan. 27.

An open house on the project to provide information and and answer questions is scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, at the Ashland Public Library. Forest Service personnel will be present.

“It was the neatest project. I’m really glad that we worked through it,” said Brian Long, recreation staff officer with the district, who managed the effort. He has personally hiked, biked or run trails in the area for eight years.

“There was a lot of support from the community and partnership with the Ashland Woodland and Trails Association,” said Long. The trails group stepped forward in 2010 to spearhead development of a comprehensive plan.

Three alternatives have been developed. One is no-action, the second is proposed and the third is a preferred alternative.

An estimated 50,000 persons per year use the trails

in the area south and west of Ashland, including hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, dog walkers, bird watchers, horseback riders and others.

“A number of trials were being created by enthusiastic trail users that were not ecologically sustainable, and some trails were impacting wildlife,” said District Ranger Donna Mickley. In 2010 a mini-excavator was used to create unauthorized trails below the Four Corners area.

Ashland Trails Project covers about 12,700 acres within the Ashland watershed. A small portion of the project — 1,200 feet of trail — is in the Klamath National Forest.

The proposals would add between 7 and 9.4 miles of newly constructed trails and decommission between 5.2 and 9.9 miles of trails deemed as unsustainable and/or undesirable. Certain uses would be restricted on some trails to reduce user conflict.

“A considerable amount of thought and deliberation has gone into this plan,” said Rob Cain, president of AWTA. “We believe that what will emerge will help create a better, more sustainable trail system that will enhance the user experience for decades to come.”

Trail work would rely on development of a volunteer program in cooperation with AWTA. Outside funding for work should be easier to secure once the project is approved, said Long.

Restoration to natural conditions is a goal of decommissioning. Some of the decommissioned trails will be marked with signs to discourage future use. Pictures in the assessment document show damage on Jabberwocky and Lower Marty’s trails, both of which would be decommissioned under the proposal.

“Some of (the decommissioning and new construction) was trying to spread the use out and spread the users. There was a lot of thought put into that,” said Long.

Following the comment period, a draft decision notice and response to comments will be released. A new administrative review procedure will be followed which calls for a pre-decisional objection process to replace the former post-decisional appeals. Only those who file comments during public comment phases for the project could be able to seek higher-level review of unresolved concerns prior to a final decision.

The environmental assessment can be found at 

http://1.usa.gov/1B36tgg. Long can be reached at 541-899-3815

— Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. He can be reached at tboomwriter@gmail.com.