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John Cortesy’s commentary on trail maintenance on National Forest lands is dead-on in one respect: I am a hiker and I mountain biker and neither he nor anyone else has ever seen me carrying a chainsaw on a national forest trail.
However, over the past 10 years I and at least 800 other volunteers that I know have worn out more than a two-dozen blades on my collection of four 22-inch bow saws.
Between fire, drought and bugs, my rough guess is that crews under the supervision of the Volunteer Task Force (VTF) have cut out more than 4,000 fallen trees that blocked trails on the forest service trail network between the Valles Caldera and the Rio Grande.
Volunteers have included motorcycle riders, equestrians, mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, cross-country skiers, school and youth groups, and Eagle Scout candidates with their fellow scouts.
As a team, we have not only removed fallen trees from trails, but completely rebuilt about 30 miles of trail damaged by post-fire erosion or abuse.
Also, VTF volunteers have followed Forest Service regulations and complied with environmental regulations to carefully build new, sustainable trails in the Santa Fe National Forest.
We have taken the time to rebuild trails in a manner that has little impact on natural features or on sediment loads in area watercourses.
Never a chainsaw?
Crews that worked directly with me (to the tune of about 30,000 volunteer hours) have never used a chainsaw on Forest Service land.
Early in the post-fire effort, Forest Service personnel explained that for safety only trained sawyers were legally permitted to operate chainsaws in a National Forest.
With respect their wishes, and in order to maintain a relationship that would allow maximum use of volunteers to restore and enhance the trail network, VTF continues to ban chainsaw use on its work parties to this day.
With hand tools, VTF crews have brought back to life trails that after the fire I swore we’d never be able to walk or ride again: Guaje Ridge, Mitchell, Cabra Loop, Water Canyon.
Did motorcycle riders with chainsaw contribute to that effort to restore the Forest Service trail network?
Most definitely, and their efforts are greatly appreciated by most trail users. They are part of the community effort that continues to maintain areas trails on Forest Service lands.
If Cortsey never sees a non-motorized trail user contributing to the effort to maintain the trails that he rides, it is most likely because those trails are not part of the Forest Service trail network.
They have been built illegally over the years, and not always in a manner that shows concern for natural resources. Some may be only six-inches wide and hidden in the woods, but others are six feet wide and 24 inches deep.
I believe that motorized use of trails is a legitimate recreational activity on Forest Service lands.
I do not believe that it justifies constructing unsanctioned trails that cause unintended damage to Ancestral Pueblo cultural sites, to sensitive wildlife habitat, or that because they are poorly designed contribute to soil erosion and a decrease in water quality.
Cortsey is again correct when he states that if motorized recreation is limited in the national forest, his trail network will be closed to all users. The trails that remain open will be the ones that are maintained by cooperative efforts of all types of users.
Craig Martin writes in his capacity as the coordinator for the Volunteer Task Force Project.