The West Virginia Open Trails Association has been working with the management of the Monongahela National Forest to open existing forest service roads to all motor vehicles including off highway vehicles, such as ATVs and UTVs and snowmobiles.
Our last meeting on April 15 with the Monongahela Forest Service in Elkins included a local ATV dealer, several senior citizens, disabled veterans, a Randolph County commissioner and two aides from Sen. Joe Manchin's office.
Our proposal was to open all existing forest service roads for off highway vehicles recreation that are presently open for motor vehicle access. This proposal was submitted with a support letter from Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito and resolutions from five county commissions supporting ATVs access to the Mon Forest. Their resolutions stated it will allow many people to see parts of the Mountain State that are currently not accessible to them, including senior citizens and the disabled.
The five county commissioners were from Randolph, Webster, Tucker, Pendleton and Pocahontas counties. They represent more than 62,000 citizens that live in and around our Mon Forest. Several of our disabled senior citizens who attended the meeting pointed out that the forest service roads should be under the same laws that govern secondary West Virginia state and county roads, which allow ATVs and UTVs to travel them.
Our proposal was rejected because forest service officials expressed concerns that organizations like the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Coalition would object. The National Forest Service is mandated by law to develop a Land Management Plan with public input. Our last management plan was submitted in 2006. It must provide areas accessible to motor vehicles and also a motor vehicle usage map. This map designates forest service roads open to motor vehicles.
There is nowhere in the Land Management Plan or the motor vehicles usage map that restricts ATVs or UTVs from using existing forest roads. The order that does prohibit off-highway vehicle access came from Clyde Thompson, our Monongahela Forest supervisor, in a document named Vehicle Use Restrictions Order 21-91 issued Dec. 17, 2008. In my opinion, this order seems to have come from his own ideology because it is not mandated by the Land Management Plan.
I would like to thank Congresswoman Capito and the five county commissioners for their support on this worthwhile proposal. A special thanks to Mike Taylor, Randolph County commissioner, for his interest and leadership. He realized that this is very important to our senior citizens and disabled. We are still looking to Sen. Manchin to bring some reason to this unreasonable situation.
Why have all the other national forests provided off-highway vehicle recreation and our Mon Forest refuses to do so?