By Beth Shumate, Recreational Trails Program Manager, Montana State Parks

Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association has set a new precedent for tackling trail maintenance efforts in Montana!  Not only have they successfully demonstrated that they can establish better relationships between federal and state partners but they have also demonstrated that they can accomplish more work on the ground in a more cost effective way than ever before.  MTVRA recently secured another $90,000 Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant from the federally-funded RTP through an extremely competitive process. MTVRA also secured $90,000 in 2014 and $45,000 in 2015 for these same types of efforts from Montana’s RTP.  This on-going project is the third year of an effort to develop long-term methodology and partnerships to improve recreation opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.

This project helps to establish improved relationships with all trail user groups between the Forest Service and BLM by working together to create safer and better trails for all age groups and abilities to enjoy. Many of the National Forest and BLM offices have established partnerships to address maintenance improvements to trails.  MTVRA works individually with many district Forest Service and BLM offices, but this grant provides an opportunity to provide a coordinated effort to address deteriorating trail conditions which agencies lack the time and funds to adequately address.  MTVRA, Forest Service and BLM land managers began meeting in 2012 to identify ways to improve motorized trail maintenance.  The agencies recognize maintaining motorized trails is more expensive and less effective when hand crews are used.

MTVRA has been a long-standing partner with the Lewis & Clark National Forest for several years assisting in the cooperative enhancement of motorized recreation use opportunities, development of a user friendly motorized vehicle use map and performance of maintenance activities on the Lewis and Clark NF. However, over the past year, MTVRA has broadened the scope of involvement and partnership by assisting several National Forests and BLM offices in Montana with maintenance of their motorized trail systems.  Many of the trails identified cross not only National Forest boundaries, but also BLM lands.  The purpose of this grant is to continue providing seamless trail maintenance that crosses federal land boundaries, improving trail conditions and improving recreational opportunities for the public.

OHV use on designated routes on the Helena, Lewis and Clark, Gallatin, and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests (NF) and BLM Field Office areas is increasingly popular by OHV enthusiasts.  Many areas have seen use increase not only by local riders, but regional and out-of-state visitors.  As use continues and grows, so does the need for maintenance on trails.  Many routes due to terrain, soil, or level of use require a higher level of maintenance or re-occurring maintenance to maintain tread and drainage structures to reduce resource concerns.  Maintaining heavily used trails will reduce public safety concerns and provide for a more diverse age and skill level of rider to utilize the OHV trail system on public lands.  Many seniors and people with disabilities ride OHVs as they may not have the physical ability to enjoy public lands by non-motorized means.  Maintaining OHV trails with hand crews is difficult, expensive, and impractical. Mechanized maintenance performed with equipment is required to make dual-track trail maintenance efficient and effective. The type of equipment required for doing the work is also very important. Small excavators are very good for doing small jobs, especially where precision and moving objects is required and tracked skid steers work well for moving loose material but neither work well for high volume, heavy trail maintenance.  However, the Sweco or Sutter trail dozer was developed for exactly that application. The trail dozer can maintain trail at a rate exponentially higher than mini-excavators or tracked skid steer machines.  While the per-hour operation cost is generally slightly higher than other machine types, the volume of work produced by a skilled operator using a trail dozer makes the per-mile cost of trail maintenance about 25% or one-fourth the cost of other methods.

We estimate that the grant will complete heavy maintenance to address public safety and sediment reduction on an additional 150-200 miles of OHV trails (and potentially 20+ miles of single-track trails) on these forests and BLM units. Number of miles is dependent on soil types.  In the 2015 season 182.35 trail miles received maintenance.  The average cost per mile for the 2015 project season was $476.35 per mile. The coordination for this maintenance project has been smooth and efficient. 

MTVRA has held state rides on each of the participating National Forests and BLM Field Offices included in the maintenance project.  MTVRA understands the need for improved trail maintenance and has been working with the agencies to identify ways to more effectively address resource concerns and public safety. 

This project is unique because it is an example of a true partnership between the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, the US Forest Service, The Bureau of Land Management, and Montana State Parks that addresses the needs of the OHV public, protects our natural resources, and crosses agency boundaries.  It has and will continue to accomplished the work “on the ground” in a more cost effective way than traditional approaches.  Montana’s RTP hopes to see more coordinated efforts like these in the future so all trail enthusiasts can continue to enjoy all that Montana has to offer!

NOTE:  Montana State Parks plan to make 2017 RTP grant applications available in mid-November with a deadline of January 31, 2017.