The Trail Riders of Southern Arizona (TRS) represent a success story of working with local land managers and the Coronado National Forest (CNF) to create new OHV opportunities in Southern Arizona. The Red Spring Trail system is a multi-use motorized singletrack system (open to motorcycles, hikers, mountain bikes, e-bikes, and equestrians) that was created thanks to the vision and patience of passionate dirt bike riders, USFS staff, OHV decal funding, and countless volunteer hours. While it was not a fast or easy process the end result is the Red Spring Trail system – over 20 miles of brand-new, purpose-built singletrack on US Forest Service land with a second phase adding even more trail to come soon.
TRS club president George Wysopal and Gary Meeker on the TRS Board of Directors were just a couple of the highly involved club members driving the push for new opportunities and spent thousands of hours and blood sweat and tears to make the project happen. NOHVCC had a chance to chat with these two leaders.
Both George and Gary are long time OHV enthusiasts, and both have been involved in OHV advocacy for decades. George recalled an incident about 15 years ago when some of his fellow club members were cited for riding illegally. While the case was eventually dropped by the judge, George “found religion” and decided that not only was it time to find a way to get legal trails in his area he knew it could be done because of then-recent success that clubs in Colorado and Northern Arizona had experienced in getting trails on the ground.
Like many success stories in OHV recreation The Red Spring Trail was made possible because of positive relationships with land managers. George and Gary met with officials representing the Coronado National Forest including John Titre, Recreation Staff Officer, Nogales Ranger District, to begin discussion on areas that might be suitable locations for singletrack trails on the Forest. Ultimately, the group checked out an area called Tumacacori Mountains in the Nogales District.
Gary took to Google Earth to investigate only to find that there were existing trails including old smuggler trails that were close to the U.S./Mexico border created by decades of foot traffic. Along with John, they were able to walk the trails and begin to make decisions about which trails may be suitable for conversion to singletrack motorized use.
It was at this time that Gary’s expertise in mapping came to the forefront. He was able to map all the trails and get an accurate inventory of existing trails. George said, “This project could never have been completed without Gary’s ability to work with maps. Since he was able to provide a complete inventory, Forest officials didn’t have to walk all the trails and create their own inventory.”
With the inventory in hand, George and Gary knew it was time to “make it real.” Along with John they began the public involvement process with the Forest. Once the project was announced and public comment was solicited our OHV heroes were delighted to find out that there was public support. George recalled, “There were about 170 positive public comments for the project. While we were excited about that, we knew the real work was about to begin.”
Once work began in earnest on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes, Gary, George, TRS club members and land managers faced a couple hurdles. First, they had to deal with the discovery that the endangered Pima Pineapple Cactus takes up residence in the area. An initial site for a staging area had to be abandoned because of the prevalence of the cactus and some trails had to be rerouted. A Forest Service botanist walked every trail and helped find a suitable location for a staging area and helped determine ways to layout a trail system that did not seriously impact the endangered cactus.
George recalls overwhelming positive public comments throughout the entire process – almost. “Towards the end of a very lengthy process, one person objected, and we needed to have a special meeting to address concerns.”
They were also up against the clock as the project was being supported by state OHV decal funds. George notes, “The grant had a deadline we had to meet. At what we thought was the end of the process we were faced with a string of things that needed to be done including an inventory of invasive species. It was frustrating and difficult, but we got it done.”
When asked to give advice to others who might be trying to get trails on the ground in other areas, George replied, “Sit down with you land manager early and often, and make sure you understand the intricacies of the process – there will be surprises if you don’t.”
Gary answered the same question with this response, “Make sure that everyone follows the letter of the law. This will ensure that there will be no standing for those who make formal complaints, particularly late in the game. Take no shortcuts, do everything “by the book.”
While the hard work of Gary, George, and TRS members has paid off, they are not finished. TRS recently hosted a NOHVCC Great Trails Workshop in the area to help land managers and enthusiasts alike better understand where to locate trails. Both hope the experience helps inform phase two of the Red Spring Trail system as they seek to add additional trails.
Finally, we like to ask dedicated and accomplished volunteers what they think is important that OHV enthusiasts need to do to create a positive future for OHV recreation. Gary responded, “If you are working with a National Forest, make sure everyone understands that there is a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM). While you can find lots of information on social media, it isn’t always accurate. An MVUM tells you exactly where you can and cannot go – be wary of non-official maps.”
George added, “Join a club like TRS. Legitimate clubs know where you can ride. If you can’t find a club in your area – start one. There are resources available to help so there is no excuse not to get organized.”
If you would like more information about this project, resources to help start a club, Great Trails Workshops or who can help you in your State, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. NOHVCC works with lots of dedicated enthusiasts like Gary and George and we know their success can be replicated.