Montana has taken a major step forward when it comes to maintaining multi-use trails on public lands. Montana’s State Parks Division of Fish, Wildlife & Parks awarded a $90,000 grant from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) to the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association (MTVRA) to perform trail maintenance on 50” (ATV) trails. The grant results from a partnership between the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management with work to occur on the Lewis and Clark, Helena, Gallatin, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests and Butte Field Office of the BLM.

The RTP Program, administered by the State Parks Division, is a federal program financed by a refund of federal fuel taxes paid by motorized recreationists on the fuel they buy that is used offhighway. Montana receives approximately $1.5 million per year for trail projects. 

This grant will be used to hire a contractor to do maintenance on trails on some federal lands where the vast majority of recreational OHV activities occur in Montana. A Sutter Trail machine, a very small dozer designed specifically for trail maintenance, will perform the work. With a trained operator, the Sutter has the capability of performing maintenance on as much as six miles or more trail per day, depending on ground conditions and the work required.

All trails require maintenance regardless of the types of use they get. However, over the past two decades ATV’s have become increasingly popular and the tread of many trails was widened to 50” to accommodate the use. These wider trails are more difficult to maintain by hand than single-track trails. The Sutter, developed to solve this challenge, offers managers the ability to maintain ATV trails efficiently. The Sutter is used across the nation in nearly every state that has an OHV program and a managed ATV trail system. In fact Montana is the only western state that does not have a formal agency-run program for maintaining trails with Sutter machines.

This partnership is the first step in solving that problem. The MTVRA will manage the grant. They will solicit bids from qualified contractors statewide, hire the contractor, manage the contract, do the required reporting, and coordinate local volunteers to help with brushing and prep work. The US Forest Service will provide supervision to assure the work performed by the contractor and volunteers is in compliance with their standards and that all work is in compliance with NEPA and MEPA. Work will only be performed on designated OHV trails in areas where travel management planning has been completed. No single-track trails (trails less than 50” wide) will be affected by this program.

The partnership is a prime example of how Montana citizens can work with land managers to get more work done with less money. Brad Colin, Outdoor Recreation Planner for the BLM Butte Field Office, said “It’s amazing how partnerships can boost
efficiency. We (BLM) are required to go through a much more complicated bidding process and frankly, it’s not easy contracting for the government so the prices are higher. Our process also takes a lot longer to complete. Working with MTVRA has allowed us to get the work on the ground sooner, at a lower cost and has allowed me to focus my time on making sure the work on the ground gets done right rather than administering contracts”.

This isn’t the first time MTVRA has worked in partnership with the USFS and BLM to perform maintenance using grants. In fact, over the past several years, MTVRA has secured grants from the RTP program, the Montana OHV Grant program, the USFS RAC Grant program, the Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative, and the Polaris TRAILS grant program to perform trail maintenance with the Sutter trail machine in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, and BLM. Those smaller efforts proved to be very effective and efficient and laid the groundwork for the expanded partnership between the USFS and MTVRA. The per-mile cost of the trail maintenance proved to be a fraction of the traditional costs of maintenance trough individual government contracts.

This is the first time that the MTVRA and the US Forest Service have partnered on such a broad scale. The discussions that lead to the coordinated effort were facilitated by Garry Edson, USFS Region 1 Trails Coordinator (Ret). Garry also drafted the agreement and made sure it went through the G&A process quickly. His replacement, Sean Harwood, is enthusiastic about the program and will coordinate scheduling of the work on the individual forests and BLM unit. MTVRA past president Russ Ehnes coordinated the previous smaller grants and has lead the effort to expand the program to its current level said “It’s taken a while to build the trust on both sides to move down this path in partnership. We’ve all learned that there are a lot of really committed people in the BLM and Forest Service and MTVRA who really want to provide great trails and take care of the natural resources.”

Jocelyn Dodge is a Recreation Forester for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and a champion of partnerships. She summed it up this way, “Our jobs as land managers require us to protect our natural resources. The trail maintenance we’ve been able to perform through this program has not only allowed us stabilize the soils and greatly reduce sediments coming from those trails but to also make the trails more fun for the riders. The real winners are the trail users and the environment.”

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