Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tracy Ridge, Part 1

I have read the "Tracy Ridge Shared Use Trails and Forest Plan Ammendment Project Environmental Assessment" for adding mountain biking to that area and I have some comments on it

Jakes Rock Donations
Here is a passage from the Environmental Assessment
“Issue #2 - How would the shared use proposal affect the Forest’s ability to provide various trail/recreation opportunities?”

It reads
“Some commenters remarked that with the Jakes Rocks trail system under construction, additional mountain bike trails are not needed. Currently, ten miles of trails are constructed at Jakes Rocks (out of 45 miles approved for construction). Funding for the full build out is not yet secured.” 

The Community Foundation of Warren County gives the Trails at Jakes Rock an $100,000 donation.

This has changed.  The Trails at Jakes Rock have received a $100,000 donation from the Community Foundation of Warren County.  With $100,000 in hand, many of miles of trails should be able to be built at Jakes Rock.  According to their Facebook page, they are planning to build 10 miles a year.  They have enough money to build 10 miles in 2017 and have made a dent into building 10 more in 2018.  Having a purpose built mountain biking trail just a short ways from Tracy Ridge means that Tracy Ridge might not even be used very much by mountain bikers.  The Tracy Ridge Environment Review even notes that the grade of the trails at Tracy Ridge are “mostly gentle as much of the system is on a plateau.”  This doesn’t even sound like a place that most mountain bikers would like to ride. After all, it’s called “Mountain Biking” not “Gentle Grade Biking.” People are not traveling all the way to the Allegheny Forest to ride on a beginners trail.  They can do that where they live.

Hurting chances of becoming a Wilderness.
Here is another passage from the Environmental Assessment
“Issue #5 - How would the shared use proposal affect future suitability for wilderness designation in the Tracy Ridge Recreation Area?”

It reads
“Furthermore, evidence suggests that Congress will designate Wilderness despite the presence of trails that allow bikes. For example, in 2015, the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness was designated by Congress. Within the new Wilderness, more than 50 miles of trails previously open to bikes were closed to bikes.”

I really don’t think comparing the proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness Area to Boulders/White Clouds is a very good comparison.

In an email to me from Julie Thomas of the Sawtooth Recreation Area she pointed out that only around 40 miles of trail that mountain bikers actually used were closed to mountain biking due to Boulders/White Clouds. So, here is the Comparison.  The Boulders/White Clouds Wilderness is 275,665 Acres.  There were 40 miles of mountain biking trails within the Wilderness.  That means that there was 1 mile of trail for each 6900 acres of Wilderness. Meanwhile, having 12 miles of mountain biking trails in the proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness will create a bigger impact than the trails at Boulders/White Clouds.  The proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness will be 9500 acres, which means there will be 1 mile of trail for each 792 acres.  Proportionally, the 12 miles of mountain biking trails at Tracy Ridge will have a much greater impact on whether the area is approved for Wilderness.
At 275,665 acres, you could fit 29 Tracy Ridges in Boulders/White Clouds
And to me it’s not a very good idea to allow mountain biking now only to have it booted off the trails if Tracy Ridge becomes a Wilderness.  Tracy Ridge is the largest roadless area in the Allegheny National Forest, thereby, should seriously be considered for Wilderness Designation.  According it the Friends of the Allegheny Wilderness, only 2% of the Allegheny National Forest is Federal Wilderness compared to 11% in the rest of the Eastern Region of the National Forest Service.

Affects on Wildlife
"Issue #6 - How would the shared use trail proposal affect the wildlife, native plants and nonnative invasive plants in the area?"

This section mentions Bald Eagles, Bats and the Northern Goshawk, but doesn’t mention Bears.  According to Wildlife Biologist Brian Horejsi “The basic science solidly supports the general claim that bikers and bikes are displacing bears,…”  Since the proposed trails for mountain biking are in the middle of the proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness, it will effectively cut the range for bears in half.  The article about mountain biking displacing bears which quotes Brian Horejsi is located here:
A Black Bear at the Tracy Ridge Campground

The Tracy Ridge Campground
In the Opening Section called “1. Purpose and Need For Action,” the Environmental Assessment mentions that both the hiking trails and the Campground at Tracy Ridge are under used.  Here is the Quote:

“The two main legs of the system – the Tracy Ridge Trail and the Johnnycake Trail experience use but the connectors (trails built in the mid -1990s) are seldom used by the hiking public. Likewise, use of the campground is quite low – occupancy of the 100+ site campground is rarely above 10%.”

The Forest Service seems to think that adding mountain biking to the trail system at Tracy Ridge will also add users for the Campground.  This is probably not the case or marginal at best.
The reason the Tracy Ridge Campground is not doing very well is that there is a better Campground less than 5 miles away.  The Willow Bay Campground just north of the proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness has dozens of amenities including showers and flush toilets.  After a hot day of mountain biking, the first thing the mountain bikers will want to do is take a shower, so they will be headed to Willow Bay, anyway. The Tracy Ridge Campground does have running water, but it also has pit toilets.   
an amenity comparison

Willow Bay is right on the Allegheny Reservoir with excellent views of the lake.  There are no views of the Reservoir at the Tracy Ridge Campground.  The Willow Bay Campground has several campsites right on the shore of the Reservoir.  This sounds much more appealing than camping in a dense woods.   
The Deer Grove Camping Area at Willow Bay has campsites right on the water.

Of course, campsites with all those amenities at Willow Bay cost more than the Primitive campsites at Tracy Ridge.  But, if you can afford to ride around on a $2000 bike, you can afford to pay a little more for a campsite with amenities.

Why are they proposing this project?
There is a section in the Environmental Review called. "Why are we proposing this project?"  The Forest Service writes that mountain biking is an "increasingly popular and accepted use.." 

Well, this is not the case.  Yes, mountain biking is an accepted use, but it is not an "increasingly popular" use.  In fact, mountain biking numbers have remained steady at just under 3% of the population.  These numbers are from the Outdoor Foundation's Participation Studies, which are the premiere source for outdoor participation information.  The Study Reports can be found here: 

In Conclusion
The people at the Friends of the Allegheny Wilderness have been putting forth a great effort in trying to get Tracy Ridge designated as a Federal Wilderness.  Let's do everything possible to help in this effort, and not approve uses for the area that are inconsistent with the Wilderness Act.

You can discuss this blog at the Preserving the PCT facebook page located here:

To read the "
Tracy Ridge Shared Use Trails and Forest Plan Ammendment Project Environmental Assessment" go here:

For instruction on how to comment on the project, go here:

In Part two: Ideas to get more people hiking at Tracy Ridge.