Support Ecologically Sound Official Trails

The Forest Service intends to build a vast network of hiker and horse trails in the Shawnee National Forest. These official trails will replace the hundreds of miles of illegal user-made trails that now crisscross our only National Forest.

Since 1990 the number of commercial horse campgrounds and ranches has increased in the region from ~5 to ~30. This industrial use of the Forest by horse-based businesses has had a severe detrimental impact on the Forest. The current Forest Plan allows horse riders to ride cross-country, or off-trail. This has led to the creation of hundreds of miles of user-made trails. User-made trails are illegal to make, but the Forest Service has done nothing to enforce the regulation. The result of this neglect has led to major environmental degradation of the Forest, including soil erosion, siltation of streams and decimation of many rare plants and native plant communities.

The Forest Service plan calls for:

  1. Identifying a number of miles of trail to add to the Forest’s designated trail system within the watersheds of Lusk, Upper Bay, Big Grand Pierre, and Eagle creeks - the majority of the miles being existing user-made trails that are to be reconstructed and relocated as necessary to avoid resource impact;
  2. Constructing of additional trailheads to provide access to the trail system;
  3. Amending the Forest Plan to allow an increase in the trail density in Wilderness Areas (currently 1 mile of trail per square mile of Wilderness);
  4. Amending the Forest Plan to restrict horse use in these four watersheds to system trails and roads.

The Sierra Club supports the basic proposals as outlined above with a few conditions:
Reduce the overall number of miles of trails as proposed and do not allow the amended trail density standard to exceed 1.3 miles of trail per square mile in Wilderness.

In addition, we want the Forest Service to:

 

SAMPLE LETTER

Matt Lechner, NEPA Coordinator
Attention: Trails Designation, Shawnee National Forest
50 Highway 145 South
Harrisburg, IL 62946

Dear Mr. Lechner:

I support the designation of additional system trails in Lusk, Upper Bay, Big Grand Pierre and Eagle creek watersheds and the proposal to restrict horse use to designated trails. However, the number of trails outlined in the proposed action is excessive. Trail density overall needs to be reduced, with a trail density in Wilderness Areas not to exceed 1.3 miles of trail per square mile.

I am requesting the designation of more "hiker only" trails, because walking through horse manure and urine interferes with the quality of my recreational experience. Trails through designated Natural Areas should remain "hiker only", with horse trails routed around these areas.

In addition, I think the Forest Service (FS) should give the highest priority to preserving the quality of the streams in the forest. Lusk, Big Grand Pierre, and Eagle creeks are all rated as biologically significant streams, which need to be protected. Horse trails and confinement areas should be avoided in flood plains. The proposed number of creek crossings in Lusk Creek should be reduced.

The FS needs to establish quantifiable standards and guidelines and a monitoring plan for identifying trail maintenance and/or closure needs. A comprehensive and enforceable wet weather and/or seasonal closure plan needs to be developed. A law enforcement plan must be established that specifies what violations would warrant a ticket and how much the fines would be.

Thank you for considering my comments.