Off-road damage to forest rises with spring thaw - KOTA Territory News

Off-road damage to forest rises with spring thaw

Mike Brandt, Spearfish Newsroom   

In the pristine hills outside of Spearfish is a network of trails for a variety of recreational vehicles. 

But the actions of a few careless riders, creates an eyesore in the beauty. "There's really no specific demographic of the people who come out here and violate some of our rules and regulations," said USFS law enforcement officer Travis Lunders.

Violating those rules can lead to fines from $250 to $5,000 and up to six months in jail.   

Warming temperatures mean spring thaw, a popular time for some to play in the mud, but a time for concern for both the Forest Service and off-road enthusiasts. "I wouldn't say it's critical yet, but it's on the verge of being critical and if we don't stop it and educate and get people to understand that mud is a no-no, we're gonna have issues," said enthusiast Jeff Kearney. "If you could get people to stay off for maybe even a couple of years, you'll see a lot of this may start to heal over," said district manager Rhonda O'Byrne.

Barriers such as signage and rocks attempt to keep riders from entering damaged areas. And the Forest Service offers a travel management map to assist riders with safe routes.   

But abuse still occurs. And with only eight law enforcement officers patrolling lands from Colorado to South Dakota, law enforcement relies on individual concerns for nature. "We do our best to focus on the problem areas but there are so few of us that we really do have to rely on the public and the other law enforcement agencies," said Lunders.

"There's no doubt the national forest is for everyone, from bicyclists and equestrians all the way up to off-road and hiking. It's here for all of us, but we do all have to get along at the same time," added Kearney.

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