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Critics Assail Interface Trails Decision

A long-awaited Stanislaus National Forest decision closes some Interface trails while creating some new ones. Among its critics, none are happy.

The fate of trails was announced Wednesday during a press conference held by Tom Quinn, the U.S. Forest Service supervisor in Sonora. “We´ve significantly restricted the amount of area that is open to motorized use,” Quinn said.

The Interface is a 16-square-mile area of forest bordering the towns of Avery, Arnold and White Pines. Off-road enthusiasts and some of the residents of the towns bordering the Interface have been at odds over off-road vehicle use of the trails there.

The Interface is made up of three sections; Summit Level, near White Pines Lake; Penny Pines, near Meadowmont and Lakemont Pines subdivisions; and San Domingo, south of Avery Sheep Ranch Road near Hathaway Pines.

The San Domingo section will be entirely closed to non-street legal vehicles with Summit and Penny Pines having limited use by non-street legal vehicles.

The Forest Service defines street-legal vehicles as “cars, motorcycles, trucks, recreational vehicles and other vehicles with state registration for highway use.”

Non-street-legal vehicles are defined in the plan as “dirt motorcycles, dune buggies, all terrain vehicles (ATVs), snowmobiles and other vehicles without state registration for highway use.”

The two groups that have been at odds about the fate of the trails are Partners in Recreation, an advocate for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, and Commitment to our Recreation Environment (CORE), a group that doesn´t want trespassing, dust and noise near their homes.

Apparently neither group is satisfied with the decision. “They´ve destroyed my whole reason for living here and I can´t move,” Jim Willis, an Avery resident, said.

Willis said he rides in the San Domingo area that´s being closed, which is right behind his house. “I feel that for the OHV users it is setting them up for failure to be in compliance because the Penny Pines area is such a small area that the people riding OHV motorcycles will be tempted to cross over into the White Pines area,” said Ralph Emerson, OHV rider and a Partners in Recreation member.

Partners in Recreation held a meeting Thursday night to discuss appealing the decision, Emerson said. “It´s absurd to think that by limiting the trails they limit the number of people,” said Judith Spencer, Lakemont Pines resident and CORE member.

“If there´s not continual constant enforcement, we know we´ll be right back where we´ve been all along. If they´re in there anywhere, they´re in there everywhere,” Spencer said.

Spencer found it funny that the San Domingo area will be closed when “that´s the area with the least residences.”

“The area is becoming more popular with folks out of the area,” Quinn said. The Interface is not well suited as a significant OHV destination, he said. Use will be limited to deter tourists from using the Interface yet encourage use by local families, Quinn said.

“Some will see this as scaling back OHV use too far,” Quinn said. “It´s a workable alternative.”

The Interface Recreation Trails Draft Environmental Impact Statement offered six alternatives for recreation in the Interface area of the Stanislaus. Quinn´s decision draws from three of those.

The trails decision is more than two months late. Forest Service officials had originally targeted the end of September as the decision date.

Quinn attributes the late decision to document preparation and weighing the pros and cons.

“I wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to hear from and listen to as many of the interested parties as necessary,” he said. “There is some concern about our ability to enforce this,” Quinn said. Quinn spoke about “adaptive management strategies” during a press conference.

Annual monitoring and evaluation will take place in areas of Penny Pines and Summit Level.

If monitoring reveals a lack of compliance, motorized use will be eliminated without an environmental analysis, Quinn said. The Forest Service has laid out a five-year plan to implement the new Interface trail system.

In the next year the Forest Service will communicate the decision to the public, develop maps and brochures, install trail signage, close trails, start the Arnold Rim trail, start new motorized trails, and seek funding for the rest of the project.

In the next five years the Forest Service will continue, signs, maps, public contact, and enforcement activities, and continue closing and building trails.

Forest officials estimate 4,200 OHVs, 600 hikers, 350 mountain bikes, and 200 equestrians use the interface area each year.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click: calaverasenterprise.com